As Italy move into the Euro 2012 final, we look at the talking points from their game with Germany.
Last Updated: 28/06/12 10:26pm
A 2-1 victory over mighty Germany in Warsaw on Thursday night surprised everybody thanks to a smart and confident 90 minutes of football. Italy and Mario Balotelli will meet the world and European champions in the final, and, here, we examine the issues that emerged on a triumphant night for the Azzurri.
Italy surprised one of the red hot favourites for the competition as Antonio Cassano turned away from some slack German defending to set up Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli to head home his third goal for his country from close-range after 20 minutes. It was the first time the Germans had been behind in a competitive match since the final of Euro 2008. And the youngest player on the park soon added a second with a scorching right-foot firecracker to seal the win, despite Germany's late goal.
Up until Thursday's encounter, Borussia Dortmund youngster Mats Hummels had been deservedly lauded as one of the players of the tournament, but the centre-back struggled going up against the attacking threat of Balotelli and Cassano. A glaring error from the 23-year-old led to the opening goal as he was turned by Cassano, allowing him to set up his strike partner with a deadly cross.
Unbeaten in eight
Italy have never lost to Germany in eight meetings at major tournaments, with the Azzurri boasting four wins and four draws (including three games played at the Euros: a 1-1 in 1988; a 0-0 in 1996 and Thursday night's 2-1 victory). They are also unbeaten in their last five games - including friendlies - against Germany, winning three times and drawing twice. Although they have won four World Cups, their only European Championship success came in 1968, on home soil.
Quiet night for Podolski
Any Arsenal fans watching the action unfold are likely to have been less than impressed with the contribution, or lack thereof, from new Gunners signing Lukas Podolski. The former Cologne man, stationed out on the left wing in the first half, had an ineffective first 45 minutes. Podolski struggled to find a way past make-shift right-back Federico Balzaretti, who had swapped flanks from his usual position on the left, and was substituted at the break.
The 33-year-old Italian World Cup-winner Andrea Pirlo has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in the twilight of his footballing life. The graceful midfielder joined Juventus last summer from AC Milan and became a mainstay in the heart of their championship-winning campaign. During this European Championship, he has simply got better and better every game and after running the quarter-final against England, he put younger men, such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira, to shame with another masterful display.
One thing Germany had not had much experience of in the tournament before Thursday night was going behind early on. Low's men had been the ones to break the deadlock in all four of their previous encounters and appeared shaken after Balotelli bagged his first-half brace. The usually imposing attack had struggled to get a grip on proceedings from the off and Italy's lead seemed to knock their confidence, highlighting the inexperience of Low's young side.
Following the two first-half goals, Cesare Prandelli did what all Italian sides are taught to do from a young age and that was to defend catenaccio style. The Italians knew the three-time European Champions had to come out and attack so Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi sat deeper in front of the backline and pushed the Germans into wide positions.
Italian Old Lady
The Italian defence became four-fifths Juventus after the return of Giorgio Chiellini. He returned from injury at left-back and Palermo full-back Federico Balzaretti moved over to right-back in place of Ignazio Abate, who exited the quarter-final with a muscle problem in his left leg. Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Claudio Marchisio and Pirlo made up the list of players currently plying their trade for the Serie A champions in the starting XI.
No Kroos control
After Pirlo proved the main menace against England in Italy's quarter-final, it is no big surprise Germany boss Low introduced a player to his line-up with the task of containing the midfield maestro. Unfortunately for the Germans, it was an ineffective plan. Tony Kroos struggled throughout the first half, trying to contain the experienced Italian, who still managed to orchestrate play in his usual dominating style; notably when his exquisite pass put the wheels in motion for the Azzurri's opening goal.