Two goals in the first half from Italian striker Mario Balotelli proved to be too much for Germany in their Euro 2012 semifinal. Italy advanced to Sunday's final against Spain.
Many German fans headed into Thursday's Euro 2012 semifinal match against Italy with one eye already focused on Sunday, to 'our rematch with the Spaniards.' After losing to Spain in the Euro 2008 final and the 2010 World Cup semifinal, Germans wanted nothing more than to see their team hoist the trophy after finally besting their Spanish rivals.
But Thursday's clash was a historic rematch as well for Germany, against the team that knocked them from the 2006 World Cup in the semis. Unfortunately for Joachim Löw's side, history repeated itself, and Italy bounced them from this tournament, too.
Instead of Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Mesut Özil, Manuel Neuer and the rest of the squad going down in the history books as legends that restored glory to German football, it will likely be Italy's Mario Balotelli who is remembered for shattering a nation's dreams.
Two brilliant goals from the Italian striker in the first half put Germany on their back feet early on, and they eventually fell 2-1 after a whisper of hope thanks to a late penalty from Mesut Özil in injury time of the second half was silenced shortly afterwards by the referee's whistle cutting through the National Stadium in Warsaw.
Balotelli's first goal came in the 20th minute off a cross from Antonio Cassano. The Manchester City striker headed home from short range, easily outdueling Germany's Holger Badstuber and beating keeper Manuel Neuer.
His second goal, in the 36th minute, was a display of power and intimidation that the Germans never recovered from. Riccardo Montolivo sent a long ball Balotelli's way, and it found him in wide open space. Germany captain Philipp Lahm did his best to chase Balotelli down, but he unleashed a frozen rope that practically had Neuer glued to the pitch as he watched it whiz past and into the goal.
Balotelli tore off his jersey and flexed, putting on an intimidating face that showed his side was not simply to be cast aside by Germany ahead of the final against Spain.
"This is the greatest night of my life," Balotelli said "but I hope Sunday is going to be even better."
Coming up short
Löw pulled striker Mario Gomez and midfielder Lukas Podolski at the start of the second half, putting on Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus. Reus in particular played well in the second half, but the Italian back line of Federico Balzaretti, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini had an answer for everything the Germans threw at them. Löw's men were not able to find the high-tempo football that is their trademark.
"All I can say is that when you talk about Italy, everyone needs to be careful," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said after the match. "We played an extraordinary match."
Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon was rarely troubled, although he did make a few key saves, including an excellent Reus strike off a free kick late in the second half.
Özil's penalty came in the first of four minutes of injury time at the end of the second half when Claudio Marchisio was whistled for a hand ball in the area. Özil converted the penalty, and Germany threw everything they had at Italy until the end of the game. Manuel Neuer came to midfield and kept the ball in play for the Germans on a few occasions, but they could not find the last chance goal.
"We're all disappointed," said coach Löw in an interview with German public television after the match. "We mustn't make the mistake of second guessing ourselves. The team played a good tournament. Tears are flowing in the locker room, and it's silent as a graveyard. If you concede two goals in the first half, then it's going to be tough. Despite that, the team showed a lot of heart."
Toni Kroos said that the two first-half goals proved to be too much for his team.
"If you look at how the goals developed, you see that they were avoidable," he said. "We tried everything, but it wasn't enough in the end."
The loss at the Euro 2012 represents the third disappointment in a row for Germany under Löw. It is also the eighth time Germany have failed to beat Italy in as many tries.
Italy, who won the European Championship in 1968, now set their sights on Sunday's final against Spain in Kyiv.
Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Chuck Penfold