Sat, Jun 30, 2012 - Page 20 News List

Balotelli’s double downs Germany

ON A MISSION:Italy have yet to lose to Germany in their eighth meeting at a major tournament and will now seek to dethrone the defending champions, Spain

AFP, WARSAW

Italy forward Mario Balotelli controls the ball before scoring his second goal during the Euro 2012 championship semi-final match against Germany in Warsaw on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Striker Mario Balotelli struck twice to seal Italy’s 2-1 semi-final win over Germany on Thursday to leave Germany’s Euro 2012 ambitions in tatters, while Gli Azzurri march on to the final.

The 21-year-old Manchester City star broke Germany’s hearts with a first-half header and sublime strike as Joachim Loew’s inexperienced team — the youngest of the 16 at Euro 2012 — failed to cope with Cesare Prandelli’s street-wise Italy side.

A late penalty from Mesut Ozil proved no more than a consolation score for Die Mannschaft, whose 16-year wait for a major title continues.

Italy are now into tomorrow’s final in Kiev to face defending champions Spain with Italy bidding to win their first European crown since 1968.

Victory at Warsaw’s National Stadium means Italy maintain their impressive record of having never lost to Germany at a FIFA World Cup or European championships on their eighth meeting at a major tournament.

Having dropped three of his forwards for the 4-2 quarter-final win over Greece on Friday last week, Loew again tinkered with his starting lineup, but this time it backfired as Germany lacked an effective Plan B when things went wrong.

Arsenal-bound Lukas Podolski was hauled off at halftime, striker Mario Gomez also made way for 34-year-old veteran Miroslav Klose after the break, while Toni Kroos barely troubled the Italy defense from the right wing.

Germany had a couple of golden chances early on, but Gli Azzurri soon asserted themselves and after Riccardo Montolivo tested Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Italy took the lead on 20 minutes.

Antonio Cassano ghosted through two Germany defenders and crossed for Balotelli to beat his marker Holger Badstuber and slam his header past Neuer.

It was the first time since the Euro 2008 final that Germany had fallen behind in a European championship match after their 10 wins in qualifying and their four wins so far at Euro 2012.

The perplexed looks in the Germany ranks told their own tale.

Germany tried to reassert themselves with Ozil and Gomez both squandering half chances, but Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon stood up to the challenge in goal before Gli Azzurri struck again.

A sublime pass from Fiorentina’s Montolivo split the German defense and gave Balotelli all the space he needed to curl his shot past Neuer on 36 minutes.

With Germany now reeling, Reus was quickly into the action after replacing Podolski and tested Buffon with a well-struck free-kick with an hour gone.

However, Italy were not to be denied their first European final since their Euro 2000 defeat to France when Claudio Marchisio fired wide on 67 minutes and again eight minutes later.

Balotelli made way for Antonio di Natale on 70 minutes and with time running out, the Udinese forward missed a golden chance with the Germany defense all at sea.

A handball by Federico Balzaretti in the 92nd minute gave Germany brief hope as referee Stephane Lannoy pointed to the spot and Ozil blasted home the spot-kick, but it was too little, too late.

Gli Azzurri can now dream of denying world and European champions Spain a third consecutive major title tomorrow.

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