Super Mario – Super Hero
Mario Balotelli was the hero for Italy in Warsaw, netting twice as they overcame the much fancied Germany 2-1 in the 2nd semi-final. It was though, a great team performance which saw the Azzurri through under the guidance of Cesare Prandelli who out maneuvered master tactician Joachim Low.
Germany had won their last 15 consecutive competitive games but that record was always set to be tested as they had never before overcome Italy at a major tournament. Low again shuffled his pack with Gomez and Podolski both recalled. Toni Kroos was also included at the expense of Muller as Germany looked to counter the threat of Pirlo in the Italian midfield.
Balzaretti was playing out of position at right back for the injury hit Italians and they made a nervy start with Pirlo forced to clear off the line after a rare moment of hesitation from Buffon who failed to collect a corner.
The German superiority was short lived and the Italians grew into game putting their opponents on the back foot. Cassano looked clearly willing to shoot from range and test Manuel Neuer. The pressure soon told as Cassano skillfully beat his man on the left before delivering the perfect cross for Balotelli to head home on 20 minutes and stun the favorites.
Mario Gomez then placed his own header wide as Germany looked for an instant replay.
Low’s pre match adjustments were not working however, as Italy kept the midfield incredibly tight with Montolivo in particular hounding and battling ferociously. The space looked to be on the flanks for Germany and the decision to drop Muller looked to be a poor one. Nevertheless Germany were dominating. The final pass would not quite fall for them though with both Podolski and Gomez guilty of poor touches in good positions
Then a pivotal few moments 9 minutes before half time saw Khedira show great technique as his volley forced buffon to beat the ball behind for a corner. The set piece was cleared and the Azzurri countered with Balotelli controlling a long ball before eluding both statue like German center backs and smashing in an unstoppable shot that left Neuer with no chance.
Low made a double change at half time with Klose and Reus replacing Podolski and Gomez. Initially this looked to be working as Germany started with urgency and looked to get the ball forward quickly. The Pressure saw a couple of efforts before Lahm worked his way into a great shooting position with a one-two only to blaze his chance over.
Ozil then brilliantly got to the byline but his cut back was eventually cleared as Italy crowded the penalty area.
Klose was linking the attack well and almost forced an opening only to be denied Bonucci’s sliding tackle.
The Italian defending was far from desperate though and they enjoyed some possession before building well, only for Balotelli to curl a shot across the face of goal in search of his hat-trick.
Action at the other end then saw a Reus free kick tipped over by Buffon.
Italy, clinical until this point, then returned to the wasteful finishing they displayed against England and spurned a couple of chances to seal victory. First Marchisio shot wide after a superb move. He then squandered an even better chance with Di Natale screaming for a pass.
Despite the waste Prandelli’s troops were doing well, holding a high line and looking dangerous. His substitutes were also having an excellent impact on the game and his defenders looking comfortable. With 9 minutes left and Germany looking out of ideas, Di Natale fluffed another good chance to make it 3-0.
As the game neared it’s conclusion the Azzurri were finally starting to sit deep and Balzaretti was required to make a crucial sliding block as the Germans probed the penalty area. Buffon then fumbled the ball behind and Ozil volleyed wide from the resulting corner.
A clear cut chance would not come for Germany but there was still time for late drama as the pressure eventually forced a handball and penalty. Ozil dispatched the spot kick in the 91st minute but the Italians held on for a famous win.
It remains to be seen whether they will be capable of another upset in the final but the Azzurri look to be gaining momentum at the right time. They are defending superbly and have a definite, albeit unpredictable, match winner in Balotelli. Prandelli’s squad look relaxed and while they typically started slowly they may well finish strong. Germany meanwhile bow out after seeing their unbeaten run blown apart and this talented generation of players will need to wait at least two more years for a trophy.