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Euro 2012 - Too much Balotelli, Italy dismantle Germany
Italy did what many felt was unthinkable, in dismantling Germany by a score of 2-1, behind a two goal performance from the enigmatic Mario Balotelli. The win now leaves the Azzurri as arguably the favouites heading into the European Championship Final against the defending champs from Spain, on Sunday July 1st in Kiev.
Edmnton - June 29, 2012 - Heading into their semi-final match against Germany, it was clear to anyone willing to pay attention, that Italy had a real shot of knocking off the previously unbeaten favourites. With a renewed energy and confidence within the side and the presence of a truly elite striker in the Azzurri lineup for the first time in decades, their much improved play at Euro 2012 should not come as a total shock.
Having said that, their 2-1 dismantling of Germany behind a two goal performance from the enigmatic Mario Balotelli, arguably leaves the Italians as the favouites heading into the European Championship Final against the defending champs from Spain, on Sunday July 1st in Kiev.
While players such as captain Philipp Lahm seemed more interested in down playing the impressive performance of the Italians on the eve of their semi-final matchup, the Azzurri were all business and dominated the proceedings from the outset. Germany had yet to face a true test through their first four matches and were caught completely off guard by the Italians.
They were no longer the side that looked to defend a 0-0 draw until the end and hope they could find a goal somewhere along the way. Instead, you have a team that has changed their formation on a game by game basis and look more impressive with each match they get under their belt. Coach Cesare Prandelli has had them playing a lovely brand of soccer throughout the championship and has re-established belief in the program with its legions of supporters and players alike.
To be fair, Italy were in shambles after a dreadful showing at the 2010 World Cup and seemed unwilling to give players like Balotelli a shot at earning regular duty with the National team, despite his obvious abilities and an aging roster that desperately needed retooling. It may have taken a while for everyone to get on the same page but Italy suddenly look like a possible powerhouse. They have a perfect mix of exuberant but still talented youth and highly productive veterans in the form of Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, to help lead the way.
Balotelli wasted little time finding the scoresheet, as he powered home a cross from running mate Antonio Cassano at the twenty minute mark and made the possibility of the upset seem like a probability. An early 1-0 lead is exactly what Italy were hoping for and what the Germans were dreading. The Azzurri are certainly playing a much more free flowing game but they still remain defensively sound, having only allowed two goals to get past Buffon in four games. It was a hill that would not be easy for Germany to climb and one the Manchester City striker would turn into a mountain, after firing home his second of the half with a breath taking strike.
Germany had earned themselves a corner kick after the Italian keeper made a wonderful diving stop off a wicked volley from Sami Khedira but did little with it. After a quick clearance by the Italians found midfielder Riccardo Montolivo along the right side, the Fiorentina man spotted an open Balotelli making a run down the heart of the German backline and a perfectly placed ball, coupled with brilliantly timed run, left the twenty-one year old with nothing but open space between he and Manuel Neuer.
After settling the ball down just enough to right himself, the young man unleashed an absolute rocket into the top corner, leaving Neuer frozen in place and with utterly no chance on the play. It was a strike of the highest quality and one that no goalkeeper on the planet would have even had a hope of reaching, never mind stopping. Just like that, it was 2-0 for the Azzurri and this one was all but over.
Italy were unfortunate to not find a third on the night, as the continued to press Germany on the counter but after Balotelli was substituted off at the seventy minute mark, their finish upfront was no longer as lethal. Germany would cut the lead in half, when Mesut Özil would score from the penalty spot in extra time but that would be as close as they would come. Italy had pulled off what many felt would be impossible but it was something the team never doubted they could do and in the process, have launched the career of Mario Balotelli as one of the true up and coming superstars of the game.