UEFA Euro 2012 Semifinal: Balotelli, Italy Shock Germans; Will Face Spain In Final
The much-maligned Manchester City striker put all the controversy and antics behind him to put together a dominant performance against a talented German side that many had pegged to win the tournament.
Despite early-match jitters from keeper Gianluigi Buffon, the Italians managed to hold steady and were rewarded in the 20th minute when Antonio Cassano eluded two German defenders left of the box for a cross that Balotelli headed into the net.
Die Mannschaft attempted to strike back in the 33rd minute when Jérôme Boateng made a cross from the far right of the pitch to Lukas Podolski. But he was just beaten to the ball by a sliding Federico Balzaretti, who made the key clearance.
Then, in the 35th minute, German midfielder Sami Khedira took a volley from long range that tested Buffon. But the Italian captain was able to get his hands on it to swat it away.
Only a minute later, the Azzurri’s Riccardo Montolivo capped a counter with a through ball to Balotelli who had snuck past Phillipp Lahm and the sleeping German defense. German keeper Manuel Neuer was powerless as Balotelli smashed the ball into the net from just outside the box.
Though the ensuing celebration yielded Balotelli a yellow card for taking off his shirt, it was a moment above reproach as even Italian manager Cesare Prandelli appeared to be all smiles.
German manager Joachim Löw made immediate substitutions to start the second half, bringing on Michael Reus and Miroslav Klose on for Podolski and the largely ineffective Mario Gómez.
The changes spurred the Germans to come out far more aggressively in the second half, but they were largely unable to place anything in the vicinity of the goal, although in the 62nd minute, Reus took a free kick that was headed right into the net when Buffon made a leaping save to keep the Germans scoreless.
Lapses by the German defense continued as the Italians could have easily made it 3-0 on several occasions. But Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Di Natale failed to score with one-on-one opportunities.
Balotelli and Cassano were both given standing ovations by the Italian faithful when they were both substituted in the second half as the match looked won.
But the Germans weren’t done quite yet.
In stoppage time, the Germans were awarded a penalty kick off a handball by Balzaretti inside the box, which Mesut Ozil converted in the 92nd minuet to slice the deficit in half.
Yet, it was too little, too late. There would be no time for the equalizer.
The outcome is a disappointment to the Germans and their “golden generation” of players who had sought a rematch of the Euro 2008 final against Spain. But with most of their players well under 30, the Germans are still in a prime position to make a run at the 2014 World Cup.
Having already won an English Premier League title with City this year, the 21-year-old Balotelli will now have the opportunity to add the highest prize Europe offers at the national level to his growing trophy collection.
The Euro final on Sunday presents the last two World Cup champions—Italy having won in 2006 and Spain in 2010— and a rematch group from the group stage of this tournament, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Spain may be out to secure its legacy with a win. But if this game is any indicator, Balotelli is just beginning his.