A superbly taken double by Mario Balotelli proved to be enough to dispel the threat of the widely fancied Germans as Italy progressed to the final of Euro 2012 with a 2-1 in Warsaw.
For many, Euro 2012 was supposed to be the tournament in which a German team that has promised so much over the last four years would finally claim the prize that their dynamic and expansive style of attacking football under Joachim Low has deserved. Though Germany, just as they did in 2008 and 2010, lacked the decisive killer instinct to reap the rewards of their entertaining style of play.
Unlike Germany’s exits from both Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 to Spain, which were attributed to a marginal gap in quality between the two teams, the Germans possessed a squad that was collectively superior to Italy’s at this championship. What Germany lacked was the winning mentality of Cesare Prandelli’s Italy team.
Prandelli has utilised the talismanic Andrea Pirlo and installed him as the focal point of a team that in typical Italian fashion has grown into the tournament steadily and ominously. While the Italians ultimately lack the overall quality of Spain and Germany, they have exemplified a hunger for success that has been unparalleled in Poland and Ukraine. And yet for all the focus on their winning mentality it is easy to forget how with the likes of Pirlo, Cassano, Montolivo and Balotelli the Azzurri have enough talent amongst their ranks to beat anyone, as their semi final victory demonstrated.
The game could have taken a very different direction however if Germany would have capitalised on their lively start. Firstly, Mats Hummels should have given Germany the lead when his header found Pirlo on the line following a corner kick with 4 minutes played. There was then another scare shortly after for the Italians as Jerome Boateng nearly caught Gianluigi Buffon off-guard as he centred the ball with pace towards the six yard box, Buffon’s unconvincing parry rebounded off Andrea Barzagli and behind for a Germany corner kick. Italy, as they did against England in the quarter finals, started to steady their nerves as the 1st half progressed and Montolivo and Cassano were able to test their range with speculative efforts on Manuel Neuer’s goal.
With both sides starting to look accustomed to the occasion, a goal of supreme quality edged the semi final into Italy’s control as the 20 minute mark approached. Cassano skilfully wriggled free of both Hummels and Boateng on the left before delivering the ball towards Mario Balotelli. With Hummels, Germany’s more aerial assertive centre half, pulled out wide Balotelli’s movement and prowess off the ground was no match for Holger Badstuber as the mercurial Manchester City striker powered home an unstoppable header beyond Neuer.
The goal added even more urgency to the Germans’ play and they reacted well to falling behind as Ozil and Khedira shot at Buffon’s goal. Italy were crucially able to land a sucker-punch as Germany pressed for an equaliser when Balotelli doubled his tally before the break. From a German corner-kick Montolivo delivered a beautifully lofted through ball to find Balotelli bearing down on Neuer’s goal, before the striker smashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner. Germany were stunned by the explosive and clinical nature of the Italian goals, reminiscent of Johan Cruyff’s assertion that if you give the Italians one chance they will score twice.
Unsurprisingly, the Germans pressed hard after the break as Italy dropped deep and looked to clinch a third on the counter-attack. Philipp Lahm squandered a chance for Germany when he blasted the ball over the target from inside the penalty area as the German supporters urged their team on commendably. Marco Reus was unlucky not to earn Germany a foothold in the game when his free-kick from the edge of the box was saved brilliantly by Buffon, though the Italians were beginning to enjoy chances of their own as Joachim Low’s team left increasingly more gaps as they pressed desperately for a seemingly elusive goal. Marchisio shot narrowly wide following a good one-two interchange with Diamanti before both Marchisio and Di Natale both screwed efforts agonisingly wide following Italian counter-attacks.
To their credit, Germany refused to abandon their quest for a route back into the game and they were given a lifeline when Federico Balzaretti handled inside the area in stoppage time. Mesut Ozil duly obliged from the penalty spot as the Germans made stoppage time extremely twitchy for Italy. As the referee’s whistle concluded a frantic end to the semi final the Azzuri celebrated wildly and it would be harsh to deny that they didn’t deserve to progress on this performance, despite Germany’s incessant pressing throughout the 2nd half.
Joachim Low’s Germany must now regroup as they look forward to the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. In Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze, Low has the basis of a team that will again be fancied amongst the favourites in Brazil. What is vital now is the continued progression of the squad’s youngsters and the necessity for Germany to learn from their experience in Poland and Ukraine, as undoubtedly the hunger in the team will be intensified by this crushing exit.
Italy will be brimming with confidence ahead of Sunday’s final versus Spain in Kiev, as their momentum shows no signs of decline. Prandelli’s team are exemplifying a will to make right the doubts surrounding the morality of the Italian game following an all too familiar domestic match-fixing investigation as they continue to entertain and win over the neutrals with their gutsy and classy performances at Euro 2012.
Germany 1-2 Italy
Goals: Balotelli 20’ & 36’, Ozil (Pen) 92’
Germany: Neuer, Boateng (Muller ’71), Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Ozil, Podolski (Reus’46), Gomez (Klose ’46).
Italy: Buffon, Balzaretti, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Pirlo, Marchisio, Montolivo (Motta ’64), De Rossi, Cassano (Diamanti ’58), Balotelli (Di Natale ’70).
Man of the Match: Mario Balotelli (Italy)
July 1st, Kiev: Spain v. Italy