BEIRUT

Football

Super Mario downs inept Germany, sends Italy to final

Balotelli scores his second goal.

Italy took advantage of some woeful German defending to book a date with Spain in the final of Euro 2012, winning 2-1 in Warsaw Thursday.

The Italians went into the game as the underdogs but Mario Balotelli’s clinical finishing in a stunning first half was enough to secure Italy a place in Sunday’s final.

Only ineptitude by Italy’s attackers in the second half stopped the game from being a total rout as Germany’s defenders put in a horrible performance.

Mesut Ozil converted a consolation penalty in the 92 minute after Federico Balzaretti handled the ball in the penalty area.

Anyone who predicted the first half’s events is either a rampant Italy fan or a liar. Not only did Italy score twice against the mighty Germans, they did through the mercurial Balotelli with finishes taking advantage of some horrific German defender.

Lord only knows what Franz Beckenbauer, Guido Buchwald, Matthias Sammer or any one of Germany’s great defenders from down the years would have thought of Holger Badstuber’s positioning, allowing Balotelli to get in behind him to head the opener. Or what they thought of the positioning of every German defender – even the usually flawless Phillip Lahm – which allowed Riccardo Montolivo to find Balotelli with a beautiful chip into acres of space.

So out of position were Germany’s defenders – Lahm was the only player even remotely close to Balotelli when the ball was struck– that was able to reach the goal unimpeded before lashing the ball on the half volley past a stranded and helpless Manuel Neuer.

The opening 10 minutes went more or less to type. The Germans treated the group stage and the quarterfinals with remarkable impunity, simply knocking teams aside like pesky flies. They seemed destined to dominate. For all of Italy’s virtues and possession in the quarterfinals, they needed penalties to overcome a moribund England team. Not only that, the Italians looked unimpressive against a hopeless Ireland side in the groups as well as drawing to an average Croatia side. It was no surprise then when Sami Khedira went inches wide early on and when Andrea Pirlo cleared a corner off the line.

Italy did have some nice chances early on, but like in the quarterfinals against England, Italy lived on a diet of long range efforts from Antonio Cassano.

It was Cassano however who helped break the deadlock. The diminutive striker turned Khedira inside out before slinging a cross into the German danger area. Badstuber was too high, allowing Balotelli to get in behind him, before crashing a header past Neuer.

With the Germans reeling, Balotelli took advantage of Germany’s surprisingly awful defending. With credit to Balotelli, he recognized the situation, stayed deep as to not alert the Germans before darting in behind Lahm to score uncontested.

The second 45 was very much like the first but without the clinicalness. The Germans attacked relentlessly, but the Italians strangled them out of getting a clean shot on goal. Marco Reus drew a stunning save from Gianluigi Buffon, but every other time a German got close to the goal, the Italians descended on them and crowded them out.

At the other end, nervy defending kept presenting Italy the chance to grab a third, although selfishness proved to be their undoing.

Claudio Marchisio threw away a brilliant chance by refusing to square the ball to a wide open Antonio Di Natale six yards from goal, instead choosing to beat his man and shoot from an impossible angle.

Goalscorer Balotelli could have presented a simple chance to Marchisio but chose to take a touch rather than pass it to his on-rushing teammate. Di Natale should have finished the game off when more atrocious defending left the Italian with a free run on goal, but the Udinese striker could only hit the side netting.

In the end the Germans were grateful for Ozil’s penalty that at least brought some respectability to an uncharacteristically bad performance.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 29, 2012, on page 15.

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