Germany 1 Italy 2: Lessons learned as the Azzurri set up Spain clash
What lessons did we learn from Italy's impressive 2-1 victory over Germany as the Azzurri set up a Euro 2012 final against Spain?
The Balotelli show
“Mario is not a difficult character at all,” declared Daniele De Rossi in the build-up to Thursday’s showdown. Although Mario Balotelli’s ever-expanding list of controversies may suggest otherwise, there is no doubting his talent and he showcased his ability to deliver on the big stage with a brilliant double to sink the Germans. He headed the Azzurri into the lead in the 15th minute after some superb trickery from Antonio Cassano left two Germany defenders for dead. Balotelli, who evaded the attentions of Holger Badstuber (and far too easily, too), rose to thump his header home from Cassano’s delicious cross. An emotional celebration ensued but the best was yet to come. Riccardo Montolivo’s lofted pass from the left found Balotelli onside and through on goal. The Manchester City man needed only one touch before smashing an unstoppable shot into the top-right corner to double Italy’s lead in the 36th minute. Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was made a spectator by a moment of quality from the 21-year-old forward. Perhaps indicative of his questionable on-field temperament Balotelli needlessly took his shirt off as he stood still and expressionless as his team-mates rushed towards him to celebrate. He was duly shown a yellow card and it was a silly booking – but it was just about excusable this time after a sublime display in Warsaw.
Germany brought down to earth
It’s fair to say Germany were confident about their chances in Poland and Ukraine. “Nothing can stop us now,” proclaimed German newspaper Bild in its headline at the weekend. The widespread self-assurance was merited to an extent. Germany were on a world-record 15-match winning streak in competitive fixtures going into Thursday’s game. But this turned out to be an almighty reality check for Joachim Löw’s men. In truth, they didn’t play that badly. They started brightly enough and created more than enough chances to outscore Italy. But the brilliant Balotelli knocked the wind out of their sails and they never really recovered. Löw tried to mix things up at the break by replacing Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez with Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose but the damage was already done. Germany were forced to throw men forward, allowing Italy plenty of chances to add a third. Substitute Antonio Di Natale and Claudio Marchisio were both guilty of squandering their glorious opportunities. But in the end it mattered not as the Italian rearguard held firm to set up a mouth-watering showdown with Spain in Sunday’s final.
Italy build from the back
Germany had the bulk of the goal scoring opportunities in the opening exchanges and although Italy’s defending looked a bit desperate to begin with, the Azzurri’s rearguard grew into the game. Germany conjured up 15 attempts at Gianluigi Buffon’s goal in the 90 minutes – five more than Italy managed – but were made to pay for their inaccuracy whenever they were able to break through a well-organised defence. Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli’s stable centre-half partnership in front of the ever-reliable Buffon refused to be breached. After countless heroic challenges, Cesare Prandelli’s men had to endure a nerve-wracking two minutes when Federico Balzaretti was penalised – perhaps a bit harshly – for handling in the box, and Mesut Özil despatched the resulting spot-kick. But Italy were able to ride out a tense finale of sustained German pressure to emerge victorious.
Germany’s hoodoo continues
Given Italy’s remarkable record against the Germans going into the game, it was a surprise to see the Azzurri‘s semi-final chances written off by most before a ball had been kicked. Italy had posted twice as many wins as their opponents in their 30 previous encounters and had never lost to Germany or West Germany in a competitive fixture. They had also twice beaten them in semi-finals before Thursday’s clash. But whether that dismal record was in the back of any of the Germany players’ mind was made irrelevant by the fact that the Italians thoroughly deserve their spot in Sunday’s final. They have turned around a terrible run of pre-tournament results – Prandelli’s men had won just one of their last seven games in regulation time – to seal wins when it matters most.