Balotelli’s Fireworks Send Fancied Germans OutPosted: June 29, 2012
So after the disappointment of last night’s first semi-final between Spain and Portugal, fans were hoping that Germany and rank outsiders Italy would serve up a better feast of football than their Iberian counterparts. Germany had won every game in the tournament up to that point (the only team to have done so), and had scored 9 goals. Italy, on the other hand, squeaked out of Group C at Croatia’s expense and it took penalties to see them past England in the Quarter Final stage.
As the teams came out it became apparent the sheer class on the pitch. Germany boasted top quality players in every position: Neuer, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, and Podolski. Italy themselves had a team to be feared, Buffon the talisman in goal, Andrea Pirlo the magician in midfield and Balotelli the livewire up front.
Manuel Neuer had to be quick to react to cut out a through ball in the opening moments, though both sides were clearly feeling each other out. Andrea Pirlo showed another side to his game in the 5th minute, clearing a Hummels header off the line from a corner, the Italians showing some defensive frailties.
The Germans were defending very well and playing a high line. Kheidera had an effort which was followed up by Kroos, and Schweinsteiger shot narrowly wide as Löw’s men began to flex their muscles. Montolivo forced Neuer to make a smart save to his bottom right to a bobbling shot, and then the Bayern Munich stopper caught a fizzing effort by Cassano.
But then, the script was re-written by none other than Mario Balotelli. Pirlo played a well thought-out ball to Cassano on the left, whose cross was perfectly weighted after a fabulous turn; Neuer was left stranded and Balotelli leaped above Kheidra and powered home – 1-0 Italy. Germany were now having to fight their way back into a European game for the first time since the final in 2008, including the qualification process. Would the ghosts of the 2010 World Cup rear their ugly head?
Ozil fired a warning shot in riposte, and Khedira had another go on 35 minutes as the Germans seemed to be settling down, but Mario was to have another say. The man they call ‘Super’ consummately beat the offside trap, and fired an absolute thunderbolt past the despairing Neuer in the German net which left a hugely unlikely two goal gap between the two teams. As the half-time whistle blew the sorry Germans left the Warsaw turf knowing that a much-improved performance was needed in the second half.
That’s exactly what they set out to do on commencement of the second, hitting the front foot almost immediately. Some intricate interplay from the Germans led to Phillip Lahm firing over. Kroos then forced a good save from Buffon, just about tipping the ball over the bar. The Italians then brought out Thiago Motta to sure up the defence, on for Montilivo.
On 70 minutes it was once again Balotelli’s time to take the spotlight, this time a hamstring injury saw the end of an unforgettable game for the Manchester City striker, replaced by Antonio Di Natale. Löw made his own changes, Boating off for Muller to give them a much stronger attacking incentive. Then Marchiso had a chance to kill off the game, but shot wide from a tight angle. Antonio Di Natale too, after being released in acres of space, but could only hit the net on the near side.
It was looking like a really disappointing performance from the Germans, who, despite the defecit, were hardly troubling Buffon in the Italian goal. But then, a minute into added time, die Mannschaft were handed a lifeline. Balzaretti handballed and Ozil dispatched the penalty. Two minutes left, game on.
At this stage the Germans were really pressing on, Manuel Neuer found in the opposition half to collect the ball! But it was to no avail, referee Stephane Lannoy blew his full time whistle and the fairy tale final everyone was predicting was dashed. Italy’s own fairy tale story continues.