The Germans have again fallen victim to their Italian nemesis, going down 2–1 in the second semifinal of Euro 2012 played in Warsaw’s national stadium on Thursday. Italy has now defeated Germany eight times in a row in major tournaments.
The hero of the hour was Mario Balotelli who settled things with two excellent goals in the first half. If anything, the score-line flattered the Germans whose goal was an injury time penalty and nothing more than a consolation.
Questions were raised prior to kickoff as to whether the Italians would feel the effects of their epic battle with England only two nights previous, while Germany had enjoyed an extra couple of days rest. In fact, Italian coach Cesare Prandelli made only one enforced change to his starting line-up with Giorgio Chiellini coming in to replace the injured Ignazio Abate.
The latter’s natural replacement, Christian Maggio, was suspended, so Federico Balzaretti was moved out of position to right back making way for Chiellini to play on the left. Riccardo Montolivo kept his place, while Thiago Motta was left on the bench.
Joachim Low made three changes to the side that disposed of Greece in the quarterfinals, with big guns Lukas Podolski, Tony Kroos, and Mario Gomez all returning to the starting line-up. Playmaker Bastian Schweinsteiger was included despite his persistent ankle problem. There were no places for former World Cup heroes Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose.
Gianluigi Buffon was the busier of the two goalkeepers for the first quarter of an hour as Germany looked to gain the early advantage. After only six minutes Buffon uncharacteristically misjudged a close range poke from Mats Hummels and the ubiquitous Andrea Pirlo was obliged to clear off the line.
But Germany’s period of dominance was brief as Pirlo eased himself into the match and began to pull the strings for Italy. It was predictably the Juventus midfield general who found Chiellini with a delightful ball out to the left flank at the 20-minute mark.
The full back passed to Antonio Cassano who executed a lovely turn to leave a pair of defenders in his wake before whipping in a perfect cross for Balotelli to head powerfully past Manuel Neuer.
Germany’s best chance to draw level came via a Sami Khedira volley, but 30 seconds later, Italy were two up.
The Azurri broke out of defense with pace and a fabulous diagonal ball over the top from Montolivo put Balotelli in the clear. The Manchester City striker duly lashed the ball into the top corner of the net from just inside the box. Such was the power of the shot that Neuer barely moved.
Germany tried to change the pattern of the game by bringing on Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose for Podolski and Gomez at the start of the second half. Reus, in particular, was lively and his team enjoyed another good spell with three attempts on goal in the first 10 minutes.
The Germans’ best chance came on 62 minutes when an excellent Reus free kick swerved and dipped with Buffon just making enough contact with his fingertips to turn the ball onto the bar and over to safety.
It seems hard believe when one considers Germany’s dominant performances thus far in the tournament, but they pretty much ran out of ideas in this one, while Pirlo and De Rossi continued to dictate the play.
The Germans huffed and puffed but it was Italy that always looked the more likely to score when they broke forward. On 76 minutes, Claudio Marchisio, cutting in from the right, had an opportunity to put the game out of Germany’s reach but dragged his shot wide of the far post.
Then six minutes later Alessandro Diamanti, who had replaced the tiring Cassano, hit the side netting when he should really have scored. The Italians did have the ball in the net for a third time but it was ruled offside.
Germany finally opened their account when French referee Stephane Lannoy penalized Balzaretti for a dubious handball and Mesut Ozil scored from the spot. But it was far too little far too late, and a couple of minutes later the final whistle confirmed that Italy was through to the final.
Spain vs. Italy
With Spain and Italy to contest the final, thoughts now return to their group match when the Italians first showed that they had put aside their pre-tournament traumas and would be a force to be reckoned with.
Eliminated fellow group members Ireland and Croatia—particularly Croatia—can now hold their heads a little higher and feel that their failure to qualify for the knockout stages was indeed no disgrace.
Sunday’s final between the two Group C teams should be another terrific match in what has been a tournament to remember.
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