Euro 2012: Balotelli brilliance sees off Germany in Warsaw

Germany’s Italian curse remains unbroken after the Azzurri’s 2-1 victory in Warsaw saw them progress to the Euro 2012 final on Sunday night.

Whilst Italy look ahead to the showpiece final against Spain, Germany mull over another unsuccessful attempt to defeat Italy at a major tournament – their eighth to date.

A first-half brace from Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli was enough to see of die Mannschaft who could only hit back in the 92nd minute with a Mesut Özil penalty.

Germany coach Joachim Löw once again made changes to his starting lineup with Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski returning to the side, Toni Kroos also made his first start of the tournament. Cesare Prandelli opted to stick with his forward-duo of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli despite stiff competition from the clinical Antonio Di Natalie.

It’s easy in hindsight to pass judgement on the effectiveness of the personnel decisions of each manager but, put simply, they were crucial to deciding the Euro 2012 finalists.

In attack throughout the match, Germany looked blunt; supply to Mario Gomez was sparse and the Bayern striker, as has been painfully pointed out throughout the tournament, was unlikely to come looking for the ball. Toni Kroos’ inclusion seemed to say more about Italy than it did Germany with the match largely passing the 22-year-old midfielder by.

In the first-half, before being substituted, Gomez had only a solitary attempt at Gianluigi Buffon’s goal which was off-target.

In stark contrast to Germany, Italy were far more dangerous in the final third throughout the match. Mario Balotelli rose above Holger Badstuber to power a header past Manuel Neuer and then took advantage of some uncharacteristically poor defending from Philipp Lahm to smash home to make it 2-0.

At no point did the young pairing of Mats Hummels and Badstuber look comfortable in dealing with the threat of Cassano or Balotelli. Cracks which were highlighted in a resounding pre-tournament friendly against Switzerland were laid bare in Warsaw. With Cassano dropping short, the AC Milan forward was able to attack the German back-line – no more effectively than for the first Italian goal as he turned Hummels too easily to cross for Balotelli.

Balotelli was fouled five times in the match, only one time less than each of the seven attacking players in the Germany side.

Ahead of the match, Andrea Pirlo was pinpointed as Italy’s key player and Löw advised that man-marking the Juventus midfielder would not work but that they would have a plan to contain his influence. Pirlo though seemed as comfortable in possession against Germany as he was against England, albeit he did have less of it overall.

Against England, Pirlo completed 115 passes. On Thursday night, Pirlo completed only 60 passes. Italy had significantly less possession than they enjoyed against England, is it perhaps the case then that Löw’s plan worked to a certain extent but with the 33-year-old’s quality shining through, as quality does?

Whilst it is clear Germany were not at their best last night, they had showed only in spells at Euro 2012 the quality they have in abundance, there is no need for the kind of post-mortem that they underwent after Euro 2000 or the likes of which we currently see the English media attempting to undertake.

Marco Reus and Mats Hummels made real progress at the tournament, we began to see the kind of form they have consistently shown in the Bundesliga in the last two years. With an average age of around 24 in the squad and players such as Mario Götze in reserve, they can expect  to populate the latter stages of major tournaments over the next decade. Whether Joachim Löw is the man who leads them into the next few tournaments remains a point to debate.

Italy, on the other hand, have a final to look forward to in Kiev on Sunday night. If they can replicate the level of performance they highlighted last night and be as effective in possession as they were, they will be confident of lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy for only the second time. Given their opponents, Spain, are reigning champions; they can expect to have the support of football neutrals throughout Europe.

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Allan Edgar

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