Italy's Antonio Cassano with baby in his hands (R) looks on team mates as they celebrate their victory against Germany at Euro 2012 semi-final soccer match at the National stadium in Warsaw, June 28, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)
Germany were underachievers again as they fell to an impressive Italian side in the second Semi- Final of the UEFA European Championship. All eyes were on Germany to beat the Italians in an impressive fashion, the same way they had beaten all previous opposition they had faced in the tournament.
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Germany started strong but failed to capitalize on their early dominance of possession. Italy played defensively and soaked up the German pressure and mainly hit back on the counter-attack. In the twentieth minute the Italians surprisingly struck first through Mario Balotelli, who had a man of the match performance. Balotelli scored with a smartly taken header inside the box off an Antonio Cassano cross. Balotelli jumped over German Defender Matts Hummels and beat him to the ball, fooling German Keeper Manuel Neuer and giving the Italians an unexpected early lead. It was Italy 1, Germany 0 in the twentieth minute. The Italians pressed on and got another through Balotelli again on a strong Italian Counter attack in which the German defense was caught out of position. Balotelli smartly stayed onside, took two quick touches towards the penalty area and ripped a perfect strike into the top corner of Manuel Neuer's goal. After thirty six minutes, what many thought would be highly improbable had occurred. The Italians were winning by two and that is how the first half ended.
The second half was the German half of the game. German coach Jaochim Low made changes for the underperforming Lukasz Podolski and Mario Gomez. Marco Reus, the young up and comer took Gomez's place up top and the legendary Miroslave Klose came in on the left side for Podolski. Klose and Reus switched positions freely up top in an effort to get the Germans back into the fray. Reus came the closest in the sixtieth minute with a quick move on the left-hand side and beat three defenders as he cut in and took a shot that was easily saved by Gianluigi Buffon, who was spectacular all evening. He saved another effort by Marco Reus only this time off a deadly free kick that looked destined for the roof of the net, only to be thwarted and pushed onto the cross bar by a world class Buffon. Captain Phillip Lahm also came close with an incisive and aggressive move by playing a one-two with Miroslav Klose at the edge of the box, finding space and time to get a shot off. Unfortunatly it was not his day as he saw his effort sail above the crossbar. Klose was unable to find any direct opportunities at goal due to Leonardo Bonucci's fantastic awareness and close marking. He thwarted Klose, Lahm and Marco Reus on separate occasions and further frustrated the Germans.
The Germans were fortunate at times for their attack minded play left them open to strong Italian Counter Attacks. Claudio Marchiso came the closest as he received an Andrea Pirlo pass on the doorstep of Neuer's goal only to miss and see his effort go agonizingly wide of goal. So close but so far as the commentator's said it. In second half stoppage time the Germans finally had a bit of luck as a hand ball was called against the Italians inside the box and Mesut Ozil, who had a terrible performance, scored the penalty. It seemed as though the Germans would do the unthinkable. For four minutes the Germans threw everyone forward, including Neuer himself who acted more as an outfield player than a goalkeeper (even using his head to thwart a dangerous Italian pass forward). The chaotic nature of Germany's play in stoppage time did not pay off and the surprising result stood.
The Italians will join the Spanish in the epic battle for the right to be called the Champions of Europe and a berth in next summers Confederation's Cup in Brazil (a necessary warm-up for the 2014 World Cup). The Germans only have themselves to blame and poor performances by Ozil, Schwensteiger, Klose, Gomez and Podolski did nothing for their cause. Balotelli was too much for the German defense to handle and his brace ended any hopes of a German victory. The Germans will have to settle for yet another third place prize at a major Tournament.
The final will be played on Sunday, the first of July at the Kiev Olympic Stadium in the Ukraine at 2:45 eastern time. Spain has never defeated Italy in regulation of a major tournament. Their last competitive match was their first game of the Euro Cup 2012 in which both teams settled for a 1-1 tie. In the 2008 Euro Cup, Italy and Spain went to penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie in reguation and extra time.