It came at last! Super Mario Balotelli’s night!! The troublesome kid with the dark skin finally put his stamp (make that TWO stamps!) on the Azzurri, a storming performance mixing with the perfect one Italy had in Donetsk this evening, one which sends Prandelli & Co. straight to Kiev to contend the final with defending champions Spain!!
Italy vs. Germany was a true lesson of football: up by two goals at half-time, the Azzurri continued to impose their ball-playing skills and multiply their scoring chances on a German team who, despite being clear favorites before the match began, still cannot overcome the “Italian taboo” during international competitions (4 losses & 4 draws for the Nationalmannschaft between Euros & World Cup).
The Azzurri’s midfield – lead by the grinta of De Rossi, the incursions of MARCHISIO, the touch of Montolivo, and the absolute mastery of an Andrea PIRLO in Ballon d’Or format – was once again the focal point of Italy’s victory. It matched, even surpassed, a side that had won 15 consecutive games and wanted to take control of the proceedings. They didn’t. Yet again Italy’s defence, boosted by the return of CHIELLINI and the surprising (but very efficient) utilization of Balzaretti in the right-back position, proved to be airtight. Up top, Balotelli and Cassano in their cannoniere and “international-man-of-trickery” formats respectively, made German heads spin. Only in stoppage time did Mesut Özil’s penalty kick provide a small glimmer of hope for die Mannschaft, but it was too little too late.
To quote La Repubblica‘s version of Gary Lineker’s famous phrase: “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win… except when they’re playing Italy!”
MATCH REVIEW (by Marco Pantanella)
And yet, at least for the first 15 minutes, Germany had started the better of the two sides. The first three goalscoring chances were theirs: Hummels (messy left-footed effort cleared off the line by Pirlo), Boateng (low cross parried by BUFFON onto BARZAGLI and nearly bouncing into the goal) and Kroos (mid-range blast punched away by Gigi) sent shivers down Azzurri supporters’ spines, but Italy held on. And started growing in confidence. Montolivo and Cassano both had good mid-range efforts, well-saved by Neuer, but at long last the Polish fans could be heard chanting “ITALIA! ITALIA!”. An Azzurri goal was just around the corner…
20 minutes in, the ball-control & technical mastery of Cassano was its architect: turning around to avoid his markers, Fantantonio put in a delicate cross into the middle for Balotelli who, jumping higher than Badstuber, powered his header home! 1-0 Italia, and finally Antonio-SuperMario combining for a long-awaited goal!
Italy continued. Cassano created again, this time for Montolivo, but the boy-with-the-Italian-and-German-flags-on-his-boots (an homage to his German mother) took too long to arm his shot. It was end-to-end stuff. Die Mannschaft fought back. Khedira tested BUFFON with a blistering half-volley from 25 yards: San GIGI was ready and flew sideways to parry the blast. Grande!
And then Italy doubled their lead. A fantastic long ball from Montolivo (with the German defense in shambles) put Balotelli clean on goal against Neuer. The Man City striker unleashed unstoppable effort before Lahm had time to get back, and the ball soared into the roof of the net. “Statuesque” I-Am-Awesome celebration by SuperMario, who took off his shirt and posed for the hundreds of photographers on point. Yellow card. Who cares. For this one time, after a strike like that, we’ll forgive him. 2-0 Italia at the break.
Löw decided it was time for radical changes: exit Gomez & Podolski, enter Klose & Reus, the pair who had dismantled the Greek bunker in the previous game. Germany were still under shock, but mostly they were raging. The threw themselves forward. Set up by Kroos, Lahm had a great opportunity to replicate his quarter-final effort, but sent the ball over. Italy suffered. Prandelli decided to give Cassano a rest: enter Diamanti. But Germany continued to press, this time it was Reus who tested BUFFON‘s skills from set pieces: GIGI flew to deflect the shot, onto the crossbar and out for a corner. But, just like it did in the 1st half, after 15 minutes the German storm had passed.
The Azzurri, still lead by the masterful elegance of PIRLO, fought back. MARCHISIO (excellent with his incursions forward) and Di Natale (set up by Diamanti clean on goal) wasted their chances to give Italy a 3rd. And just to make matters a bit more interesting, referee Lannoy gave Germany a faint hope by awarding them a rather dubious penalty for a Balzaretti handball. Özil scored. But Italy hung on. Taking a well-deserved victory and earning a plane ticket to Kiev.
LE PAGELLE dei Juventini (by Marco Pantanella)
BUFFON 7.0 – While Italy was the better of the two sides tonight, Germany still kept throwing shots at Gigi and Gigi always responded present, particularly parrying away dangerous mid-range efforts. Only once did Buffon falter a bit, when that Boateng cross nearly turned into a Barzagli own goal, but it was the only slip of an otherwise extremely solid night.
BARZAGLI 7.0 – The “Juventus DEFENSE NUCLEUS” reunited at last! For this Pagelle, I will rate Barzagli/Bonucci/Chiellini as a group because – much like at Juve – whatever one of them missed, another was right behind to clear up the mess. Took turns in rendering the German attacking force (Gomez-Podolski-Kroos, then Klose-Reus-Kroos in the 2nd half) completely harmless, and the added “physical” presence of Keyser Giorgio at left-back was certainly a welcome sight.
BONUCCI 7.0 – (see Barzagli)
CHIELLINI 7.0 – (see Barzagli)
MARCHISIO 6.5 – Ever the industrious-midfield-handyman™. Principino can do it all: defend, pass, attack. And he certainly did it all today, particularly the attacking portion where, in the 2nd half, he had two clear-cut chances to hit the nail in the German coffin but missed the target. Shame.
PIRLO 6.5 – The metronome. Once again the top passer of Italy with 66, and once again the fulcrum of Italy’s play. Löw had declared that it was “a bad idea to mark Pirlo man-to-man because he drops so deep into his own half”. Well, giving him as much space as the Germans did wasn’t a very good idea either. No assists in store for Andrea this evening, but he did set up Chiellini for the play that eventually resulted in the Cassano cross/Balotelli goal.
(63′) Thiago Motta
(70′) Di Natale
PLAY-BY-PLAY (by Marco Pantanella)
|•||6 years after that magical night in Dortmund, the classic of classics is here again: ITALY vs. GERMANY.|
|•||STATS CORNER: the Azzurri have not been been beaten in 7 official matches against the Nationalmannschaft, who nonetheless start the game as clear favorites. They have a streak of 15 consecutive wins in official matches, their latest loss dated July 7 2010 (vs. Spain in South Africa).|
|•||Just as if their deck wasn’t stacked enough, Germany have had 2 extra days of rest, did not have to go through extra time & penalty shots in their quarter, in which by the way they rested nearly their entire attacking force.|
|•||Regardless, like De Rossi said yesterday, Italy will play the cards that they have to the fullest!! FORZA RAGAZZI!!|
|•||Tactics-wise, miracle recovery for Giorgio CHIELLINI who appears in the starting eleven today. Same goes for DDR, who complained of some pain in his sciatic nerve vs. England, but will be solidly occupying the Azzurri midfield alongside PIRLO, Montolivo, and MARCHISIO. However with Abate injured and Maggio suspended, Prandelli is forced to switch Federico Balzaretti to the right-back position. CHIELLINI will take his place at left-back.|
|•||On the other end, Joachin Loew fields Mario Gomez and Lukas Podoslki again, starting for the first time in this tournament Toni Kroos (instead of Müller) on Germany’s left wing.|
|1′||French referee Stéphane Lannoy officiates. AND WE’RE OFF!!|
|3′||Good passing exchange between Balotelli and Montolivo, who tries to set up Super Mario with a through ball. No problem for Neuer.|
|5′||DANGER GERMANY!! Kroos corner-kick, Hummels hits a moderately weak volley but it goes through BUFFON‘s legs! PIRLO is there right by the left post to keep it out with his knee!! Gigi then smothers it! Phew!!|
|6′||Ugh… ball switch by Germany from the left towards the right wing, to Khedira completely unmarked!! Fortunately he makes a straight run and De Rossi is able to close him down into corner, but not liking this by Italy here… :/|
|9′||After some good passing by Italy, PIRLO goes for the mid-range shot. Blocked by Badstuber. A few seconds later, Badstuber is there once again to stop a good incursion by Balotelli.|
|11′||Nice De Rossi long ball trying to find Balotelli. He chests it down but can’t get it under control and the German defenders recover.|
|12′||DANGER GERMANY! Boateng low cross from the right. BUFFON gets down to parry it… straight onto the shins of Barzagli and nearly back into Italy’s goal!! Corner Germany…|
|13′||Kroos!! Corner played short, ball lands to Kroos outside the box who goes for the left-footed effort! BUFFON flies and punches away!|
|15′||Counter-attack by Italy, ball is played to Balotelli but Hummels heads it clear.|
|17′||Montolivo!! Quick passing from Italy: from Cassano to Montolivo, who gets to the edge of the box and fires a low shot towards goal!! Neuer gets down to save!|
|18′||Montolivo again with space on the left, tries to find Cassano. Misses his effort.|
|19′||Cassano!! Curling effort from 25 yards. Neuer gets down to save at the far post!!|
|19′||I’m liking what I’m seeing by Italy these last 10 minutes. They’re progressively taking command of the proceedings.|
|20′|| GOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL ITALYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!
|30′||The Goal: CHIELLINI to Cassano on the left. Good skills by Fantantonio to elude his marker, he goes for a quick turnaround and crosses a perfect ball for Super Mario. Badstuber loses his mark, Balotelli says “Grazie Mille!” Header and goal!! 1-0 Italy!!|
|23′||Aarrrghh… Great Cassano ball again, wreaking havoc on the left wing and crossing it to the far post for MARCHISIO. But he trips over his own ball, and loses the moment for the shot!! Germany eventually retrieve it.|
|24′||Gomez! Off a Boateng cross, the ball finally finds the Bayern Munich striker, but his header is a quite a bit wide of the mark…|
|27′||Özil!! Long ball towards Gomez who turns around and feeds the Real Madrid playmaker. His low shot towards the left post is well-saved by BUFFON!|
|29′||Good build-up by Özil but his work is nullified by a bad Kroos pass that fails to find Gomez. Italy are very attentive at breaking down every single German offensive so far.|
|30′||Speculative 25-yard effort by Kroos, far wide off the mark.|
|32′||Good run by Montolivo (with the help of CHIELLINI) to stop Khedira’s rampant incursion through the middle.|
|34′||DANGER GERMANY! Boateng escapes CHIELLINI‘s tackle and goes free on the right wing. His cross at the far post is for Podolski, but some very attentive marking (and last-ditch tackling) by Balzaretti clears the danger. CK Germany. Nothing comes out of it.|
|35′||Montolivo!! Finds himself inside the German box after a great Cassano through ball, but takes too long to arm his shot and is closed down by Badstuber!!|
|35′||Khedira!! Off the half-volley, forces BUFFON to a flying save that deflects the ball into corner!!|
|36′|| GOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL ITALYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!
|36′||The Goal: WHAT A GOAL!!! Aerial through ball by Montolivo, Super Mario is through clear of the offside trap. The ball takes a bounce, Balotelli takes a touch, and then before Lahm can gain up the lost ground he fires an absolute howitzer straight into the top-right corner!!! 2-0 Italy!!|
|37′||Yellow card Balotelli for the excessive “celebration” (he took off his shirt). Let’s hope this one doesn’t come back to haunt us…|
|39′||From the right, a potentially dangerous Özil cross is mis-controlled by Podolski inside the Italy box, and the play dies down…|
|40′||Ball lost by Cassano with a misplaced backheel, but immediately retrieved thanks to a storming DDR tackle.|
|42′||Cassano stays down after a Badstuber challenge. Didn’t seem like there was much contact.|
|45′||Podolski/Lahm combo on the German left wing to cross the ball in, but well-held with assurance by Gigi.|
|46′||Podolski again, this time closed down into corner by Balzaretti. Nothing comes out of it.|
|46′||Half-time. A storming Italy and a storming Balotelli are leading 2-0 in front of Germany after 45 minutes of play!!|
|46′||Substitutions Germany: Reus & Klose come on for Podolski & Gomez. Loew implementing radical changes here, not that anyone can blame him.|
|48′||First chance for Germany: Reus with some good footwork to get past BONUCCI, his effort from inside the box is however too weak to worry BUFFON.|
|49′||Lahm!! The German skipper advances on goal, exchanges passes with Kroos and is set up in a great spot inside the area, but his instep effort goes over the bar!!|
|52′||Cassano’s trickery on the left gets rid of Hummels, and his cross almost filters for Balotelli in the middle of the box. MARCHISIO was lurking behind him too.|
|54′||Reus again on the German right wing with space, tries to find Klose in the middle but he slips.|
|55′||Özil roaming inside the Italian box from the right, crosses it low for Khedira but the Italian defense (CHIELLINI!) somehow manages to block him and clear the danger!!|
|56′||BONUCCI with a fantastic sliding challenge to stop Klose’s penetration inside the box. Corner Germany.|
|57′||Substitution Italy: Diamanti comes on for Cassano, who has been substituted in every game of the tournament so far. Great game by Fantantonio nonetheless, author of the winning assist for the first Mario goal!|
|60′||Balotelli! Gets rid of Lahm on the right wing, has a corridor for a good pass but keeps the ball, then fires it across goal for a diagonal shot!! Wide by a few feet!!|
|61′||Yellow card BONUCCI for a late challenge on Kroos. Good FK position for Germany 25 yards for Gigi’s goal.|
|62′||Reus!! From the FK, the Dortmund winger hits a venomous shot but Gigi flies off to save it from under the crossbar!!|
|63′||Substitution Italy: Thiago Motta comes on for Montolivo. Also good game by Riccardo, setting up Mario’s second goal! Prandelli looking to bolster his midfield here.|
|66′||Diamanti with a bold attempt to chip Neuer from 50 yards, but not only was the German keeper vigilant, Diamanti’s shot was also wide of the mark.|
|67′||MARCHISIO!! Exchanges passes with Diamanti centrally outside the box, the Bologna midfielder serves a great through ball back to him! With space, Claudio’s outswinging effort lands a foot wide off the right post!!!|
|68′||Balotelli is down with cramps.|
|69′||Substitution Italy:: Di Natale comes on for Balotelli. It doesn’t look like Mario wanted/needed to come off though. Of course, who the hell really knows…|
|70′||I’m not sure I really like this Balotelli sub. His physique was doing wonders on the German defense. No doubt Prandelli wants to exploit the speed of ADN for possible counbters, but I don’t want to see Italy spend the next 20 minutes defending.|
|71′||Substitution Germany: Müller comes on for J.Boateng. Germany turn even more offensive.|
|73′||Great Di Natale pressure to force Neuer to make a mistake during clearance. Italy win a throw.|
|75′||MARCHISIO!! Finds hismself with a golden chance inside the box, but instead of passing it to an unmarked Di Natale he tries to exploit Hummels’s slip and go for the shot!!! A foot wide of the left post!!!|
|77′||Müller shot inside the box, well-closed down by BONUCCI. Corner Germany. Nothing comes out of it.|
|78′||Fantastic DOUBLE De Rossi tackle for Italy to win the ball back!!!!!!!!! Amazing!|
|79′||Really great build-up by Italy. First Diamanti with a good potential opportunity inside the box, but he slips. Play continues, PIRLO with a great through ball for De Rossi on the left, but DDR’s cross cannot find ADN in the middle.|
|80′||Kroos! A headed clearance lands the German midfielder’s way, but his effort is way over, way wide.|
|81′||Diamanti with a diagonal shot a few yards wide, this after we saw Di Natale slip in almost the same spot Diamanti did a few minutes ago. What is up with this pitch?|
|82′||Di Natale!!! Diamanti pass + another mistimed German offside trap = ADN through one-on-one with the keeper!!!! But the Udinese forward slows down too much and in the end his effort hits the outside mesh of the goal!! What a chance missed by Italy!!|
|83′||Balzaretti hits the back of the net after yet another Italian counter (he curls it to Neuer’s far post from 18 yards), but it’s disallowed for offside!!|
|84′||Yellow card De Rossi for a high kick.|
|85′||Di Natale caught offside after yet another good Azzurri passing build-up.|
|86′||CHIELLINI yet again to block a German incursion, shortly followed by Balzaretti closing down Reus. Corner Germany.|
|86′||Kroos!! German pressure: a deflected cross lands to German feet, and eventually to Kroos who strikes a slamming half-volley narrowly over the bar!!|
|89′||Yellow card Thiago Motta for a late challenge in midfield. Since all the cards were cleared after the Quarter-finals, the Azzurri quite happy at picking up a few in the final minutes here.|
|90′||Hummels!! Off a cross from the left, the ball somehow lands to Hummels who turns around for the shot, but GIGI’s masterful reflexes keeps it out of the net!! Then BONUCCI manages to backheel(!) it into corner!!|
|90′||Neuer coming up for the ensuing corner. Özil goes for the volley, but it’s wide.|
|90′||FOUR MINUTES OF ADDED TIME.|
|92′||PENALTY KICK Germany. Handball called on Balzaretti. How that can be defined “deliberate” I really don’t know.|
|92′||Goal Germany. Özil. BUFFON dived the right way but was only a few inches short. 2-1.|
|93′||Italy clearance high up the park, incredible Neuer who is playing 40 yards out of his goal clears it with a diving header, preventing a Di Natale breakaway!!!|
|93′||Yellow card Hummels for dissent. Ref penalized him for foul on BARZAGLI.|
|94′||Neuer again with a headed clearance, this time on the left near the midfield line!!! Unreal.|
|95′||IT’S ALL OVER!!! ITALY HAVE WON IT!!!! OFF TO THE FINAL IN KIEV!!!!|
|GOALSCORERS: 20′, 36′ Balotelli (I), 92′ pen. Özil (G)|
|GERMANY (4-2-3-1): Neuer – Boateng (71′ Müller), Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm – Schweinsteiger, Khedira – Özil, Kroos, Podolski (46′ Reus) – Gomez (46′ Klose). COACH: Löw.|
(UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: Wiese, Zieler, Mertesacker, Höwedes, Schmelzer, Gundogan, Schürrle, Bender, Götze).
|ITALY (4-3-1-2): BUFFON – Balzaretti, BARZAGLI, BONUCCI, CHIELLINI – MARCHISIO, PIRLO, De Rossi – Montolivo (63′ Thiago Motta) – Balotelli (70′ Di Natale), Cassano (57′ Diamanti). COACH: Prandelli.|
(UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: De Sanctis, Sirigu, Ogbonna, GIACCHERINI, Nocerino, Borini, GIOVINCO).