Super Mario fires Italy through
Mario Balotelli scored an emphatic first-half double to fire Italy to a 2-1 victory over Germany and into the final of Euro 2012.
Last Updated: 28/06/12 10:32pm
Italy frontman Mario Balotelli scored an emphatic first-half double to fire the Azzurri to a 2-1 victory over Germany and into the final of Euro 2012.
The Manchester City striker is known for his unpredictability both on and off the pitch, but while he had blown hot and cold in Poland and Ukraine ahead of Thursday night's clash, he produced a searing performance in Warsaw.
Balotelli got things rolling for Cesare Prandelli's side when he headed home Antonio Cassano's cross from close range in the 20th minute after some poor defending from the Germans.
But the striker's crowning moment came 16 minutes later as he raced onto Riccardo Montolivo's through-ball and smashed a sizzling shot past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Germany were handed a last-gasp lifeline when the referee pointed to the penalty spot after Federico Balzaretti's handball in second-half stoppage time and Mesut Ozil made no mistake converting, but it was too little too late for Low's men, who have never beaten Italy in a competitive game.
The Azzurri will now take on holders and world champions Spain in Kiev in Sunday's decider.
Germany had started the match as favourites, mainly thanks to their world record run of 15 successive victories.
Having seen how hard England had found it to subdue Andrea Pirlo, it was anticipated they would deal with him much better. Instead, it was worse.
Sitting deep on the halfway line, Germany allowed Pirlo the time to pick out returning full-back Giorgio Chiellini with a brilliant pass to the touchline.
From there, it went downhill rapidly for Joachim Low's side.
Chiellini nudged the ball onto Cassano, who swivelled past Mats Hummels with the minimum of fuss.
Balotelli immediately got himself some space behind Holger Badstuber and when the cross came, he rose to power the ball home from six yards.
If that was efficient in its execution, Balotelli's second was brutal.
Advancing from deep inside his own half, Riccardo Montolivo could scarcely believe the room he was given. Twice he looked up to see if anything was on.
On the second occasion he spotted Balotelli making his run, exploiting Philipp Lahm's failure to maintain the offside line.
It took Balotelli a bit of time to get himself into a shooting position.
However, as the ball sat up nicely, he smashed it past Manuel Neuer.
The Germany goalkeeper had set himself to make a save. In the end, there was nothing he could do but stick out a limp hand and fall to the ground, powerless to do anything to prevent his goal being breached a second time.
Balotelli was booked for removing his shirt as he attempted to celebrate with a moody pose.
He could not keep it up though and broke into a broad smile as he was engulfed by ecstatic team-mates.
It was a performance that put English efforts - and Ireland's for that matter - into some kind of perspective. Germany, though, were a shadow of their normal selves.
Twice in the opening stages Gianluigi Buffon had fumbled close to his own line but they could not take advantage.
Sami Khedira did launch a volley towards goal in between Balotelli's brace, but on that occasion Buffon was able to make the save.
Low took decisive action at the interval, introducing Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus for Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski, whose fitful contribution cannot have impressed watching Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
The change brought some much-needed life into German ranks.
However, their efforts at hauling themselves back into the contest were repeatedly thwarted.
Lahm failed to hit the target after running onto Toni Kroos' return pass before Buffon pushed Reus' free-kick against his own bar and away to safety.
A disappointing Ozil surged to the by-line, but, with hardly any room, Khedira needed to react far quicker than he did to the near-post cut-back.
Balotelli's exit with cramp meant he was denied the opportunity to become the first player to score a semi-final hat-trick since Dieter Muller did it in 1976.
His replacement, Antonio Di Natale, should have wrapped up victory when he found himself in acres of space inside the box, but dragged his effort wide of the far post, much to Balotelli's frustration.
Federico Balzaretti's handball in the final minute did provide a few nerves for Italy as Ozil fired home from the spot.But Prandelli's men were able to reach the final whistle and celebrate their triumph.
|0||1st Half Goals||2|
|8||Shots on Target||4|
|9||Shots off Target||6|
|49.8||1st Half Poss.||50.2|
|60.7||2nd Half Poss.||39.3|