Mario Balotelli netted two sensational goals as Italy swept Germany aside 2-1 to reach the Euro 2012 Final!
The Germans were on a streak of 15 consecutive competitive victories and had an extra two days of rest, but had never beaten Italy in a competitive match over seven attempts. The Azzurri had to revamp due to Ignazio Abate’s injury and Christian Maggio on a ban, so Federico Balzaretti was re-routed to right-back and the returning Giorgio Chiellini on the left. Daniele De Rossi played through the pain of sciatica and Riccardo Montolivo kept his place in the midfield.
Germany had rested Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski in the 4-2 quarter-final win over Greece, but opted for Toni Kroos rather than Thomas Muller to harass Andrea Pirlo. Bastian Schweinsteiger shrugged off an ankle injury to start in midfield, but this was the first time this particular starting XI had been fielded.
The winners would go forward to face Spain in the Final on Sunday night and Cesare Prandelli pledged not to suddenly turn defensive. Italy wore black armbands to commemorate soldier Manuele Braj who died in Afghanistan this week.
Mario Balotelli couldn’t quite complete the give-and-go with Montolivo and Manuel Neuer was able to anticipate.
There was danger from a German corner after five minutes with Mats Hummels scuffing the ball from six yards, but Pirlo was able to clear off the line with Gigi Buffon beaten!
At the other end, Pirlo had a shot charged down, but Germany threatened again with a well-worked move that saw Buffon spill a Jerome Boateng cross to be deflected round the base of the near post off Leonardo Bonucci’s shins, then the goalkeeper had his palms stung by a fierce long-range Kroos snapshot from that corner.
Montolivo’s daisy-cutter from distance was well smothered by Manuel Neuer, with the same fate going to Antonio Cassano’s curler from outside the box.
It was Italy who broke the deadlock with Balotelli, though Cassano’s fantastic turn was crucial. FantAntonio spun round between Boateng and Sami Khedira on the left flank and immediately swept in a cross for Balotelli’s header, sneaking up behind Holger Badstuber to nod in from five yards. It was SuperMario’s third goal in 13 Azzurri caps and he finally celebrated with real passion.
Mario Gomez mistimed his glancing header well wide, then Ozil’s daisy-cutter was blocked. Boateng’s cross from the right beat Chiellini, but Andrea Barzagli did enough to anticipate Podolski and deflect over the bar at the back post.
Cassano set up another golden opportunity with a through ball for Montolivo, who hesitated and was closed down in the box before he could get the shot away from 10 yards.
Khedira unleashed a stunning chest and volley that was dipping and swerving towards the far top corner, but Buffon flew for an acrobatic save on 35 minutes.
From that German corner, Italy broke forward and Balotelli sprung the offside trap from a long Montolivo pass to get between the centre-backs and smashed an unstoppable rocket under the bar that left Neuer rooted to the spot. Balotelli whipped off his shirt and posed for the cameras, earning a yellow card.
Germany seemed stunned and struggled to mount much of a fight-back. Low made a double substitution for the second half with Marco Reus and Lazio’s Miroslav Klose replacing Podolski and Gomez.
Reus cut in from the right but hit a tame effort at Buffon, then set up a chance that Philipp Lahm blazed over. Ozil got to the by-line and pulled back for Khedira, who got the ball stuck under his feet and couldn’t shoot from six yards.
Bonucci needed a perfectly-timed sliding tackle to stop Klose as he was sprinting into the area.
Alessandro Diamanti was Italy’s first substitution for Cassano, who still cannot play a full 90 minutes after his health problems. Balotelli gathered from Claudio Marchisio down the right and cut in past Lahm to drill across the face of goal.
Bonucci was booked for a mistimed tackle on Kroos 20 metres out. The Reus free kick flew over the wall, but Buffon leapt to perform a splendid save to fingertip it on to the crossbar.
A tired Montolivo, who is half-German, made way for the more solid Thiago Motta. Diamanti spotted Neuer off his line and attempted a lob from the centre-circle, but the goalkeeper tracked back.
Italy had another great opportunity with some wonderful one-touch football, but Diamanti eventually set up Marchisio to smash off target from the edge of the area.
Balotelli went down with cramp and made way for Antonio Di Natale, though he had been eager to run it off. Thomas Muller replaced Boateng for the final German substitution.
Marchisio burst into the box and sent Badstuber down with a dummy, but could not pass to the offside Di Natale, so turned an angled drive across the face of goal.
Diamanti had a similar situation, but this time slipped at the crucial moment when trying to square the pass for Di Natale. Kroos blasted over from the edge of the area and another Italy move crumbled when Di Natale slipped on the same patch of turf down the right side of Germany’s box.
Di Natale sprung the offside trap on the counter and was totally clear on goal, but only hit the side-netting by scraping a coat of paint off the base of the near post!
De Rossi went into the book for a foul in midfield, but Balzaretti did brilliantly to dive in with a sliding tackle and stop Schweinsteiger from shooting. Thiago Motta received a yellow card during Germany’s late period of pressure and Buffon needed a reaction save with his shins as Muller scuffed a shot from six yards. From that corner, Ozil drilled wide.
In stoppages Balzaretti struggled to clear a corner and the ball struck his arm, leading to a penalty. Klose was pulling him back at the time, but Ozil stepped up and converted for 2-1 with only three minutes of injury time left.
Germany had to pour forward now with Neuer playing as a sweeper practically in the centre-circle, but it wasn’t enough and Italy reach the Euro 2012 Final against Spain.
Germany 1-2 Italy
Scorers: Balotelli 20, 36 (I), Ozil pen 92 (G)
Germany: Neuer; Boateng (Muller 71), Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm; Khedira, Schweinsteiger; Podolski (Reus 46), Ozil, Kroos; Gomez (Klose 46)
Italy: Buffon; Balzaretti, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Pirlo; Marchisio, Montolivo (Thiago Motta 63), De Rossi; Cassano (Diamanti 57), Balotelli (Di Natale 70)
Ref: Lannoy (Fra)
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