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Italy upset favourites Germany 2-1 in the second semi-final to grab a surprise place in the final of Euro 2012 opposite defending champions Spain. It was the Azzurriâ€™s mercurial striker Mario Balotelli who scored an excellent brace to finally grab the headlines for all the right reasons in this tournament. His first goal was a brilliantly taken header and the second was a thunderbolt from his right boot, as he helped the Italians continue their winning streak against Germany in international tournaments. Germany were the big favourites heading into the match having won all their matches in the ongoing Euros, but the Italian attack laid bare the defensive frailties of Germany, racing to a two goal lead at the break. The Germans did try to comeback in the second half, but bad luck combined with solid Italian defending ensured that it was not to be. A late consolation from the penalty spot was all they had to show for their efforts as this extremely talented German side was left to rue what might have been.
The most successful side in the European Championships Germany squared off against an Italian team they had a knack of losing to in big matches. With a place in the title showdown against defending champions Spain at stake, both teams were desperate to win. Whilst Germany were expected to continue their winning streak, the surprisingly adventurous Italians were not going to be pushed aside easily.
The Germans made three changes in attack with the last game's additions - Miroslav Klose, Andre Schurrle and Marco Reus - all being benched as expected. The in-form striker Mario Gomez and recent Arsenal signing Lukas Podolski came back in their regular positions, but instead of Thomas Muller, Joachim Low unexpectedly decided to put in the Bayern Munich youngster Toni Kroos on the right wing, handing the player his first start of the tournament.
The Italians meanwhile made a solitary change to the eleven that dominated the Three Lions with the now-fit Giorgio Chiellini coming back in defence in place of Ignazio Abate. The attacking duo of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano retained their positions, with boss Cesare Prandelli clearly unwilling to shuffle many things in order for some stability. Veteran Andrea Pirlo started in that defensive-midfield position again from where he had dominated opponents with ease.
The Italians got the match underway and had a real let-off in the 5th minute when an in-swinging corner by newcomer Kroos somehow found Hummels in space, only for the 23-year old center-back's effort to be blocked on the line by Andrea Pirlo. And the Italians could have fallen behind again just minutes later when a deflection off Barzagli, following a good run by Khedira and a low cross by Boateng, trickled towards the goal but fortunately found the wrong side of the post.
Buffon was put to test again with a stinging left-footed strike by Kroos following a well-worked corner routine. The Italians finally responded with attacking-midfielder Montolivo working Neuer for the first time in the match. It was quickly followed by a shot from Cassano which was curling into the corner of the net, only for Neuer to quickly move across and get down well to save.
And the Italians were soon firmly on top as they broke the deadlock in the 20th minute with the explosive Mario Balotelli heading the ball past the hapless Neuer. The move started with some good work on the wing by his strike partner Cassano, who wriggled past two players before delivering a pin-point cross from his left foot which eluded Badstuber to find the head of Balotelli, who nodded the ball home perfectly.
The Germans resorted to crosses and long balls towards target man Gomez, but it didnâ€™t seem to be paying any dividends. Ozil finally started to come into the game and had an effort on goal, easily saved. Boateng then put in a good cross following a swift attack, only for full-back Balzaretti to get in the way and blast clear. The Italians then had a great chance to extend their lead, but Montolivo pondered on the ball a bit too much inside the box and was dispossessed by Badstuber.
Following a thunderous strike by Khedira from the edge of the box, Italy countered quickly with a long ball from Montolivo, which beautifully found Balotelli behind the German defence. And the Manchester City striker, suddenly looking very much in form, blasted a thumping finish into the top corner to extend Italyâ€™s lead. The Germans were left clueless as Italy passed the ball around amongst themselves following the goal. An entertaining first half ended with the scoreline reading two goals to nil in favour of the Italians, with Balotelli grabbing a well-taken brace.
Substitute Reus was quick to test Buffon after coming on for Podolski at half-time, but could not find the power to beat the Italian shotstopper after doing well initially to go past Barzagli in the box. Captain Lahm then blasted high following a swift move and one-two passing which caught the Italians off-guard. Ozil then made a darting run through the Italian defence but Khedira couldnâ€™t put the ball into the back of the net from his Real Madrid teammate's cut-back from the byline, being crowded out by the Italian defenders.
A beautifully weighted pass then put substitute Klose in, only for Chiellini to make a last-ditch tackle before the 34 year old could fire a shot. The German domination continued in the second half as Reus came awfully close to pulling a goal back in the 62nd minute when he hit a beautiful curling free-kick, only for Buffon to tip it against the crossbar and over. Marchisio then saw an effort curl away from the goal, which had Neuer struggling, from the edge of the box following a good exchange of passes with yet another substitute Alessandro Diamanti.
Marchisio had another chance to put the game to bed with Badstuber again being the guilty party for not matching the Italian's run. However, the midfielder fired wide from 10 yards when he should have atleast tested a shaken Neuer. The Italians looked favourites to grab a third rather with the Germans being caught time and time again on the counter, and they should have had it when Di Natalie was put clean through at the goal. However, the veteran striker took too much time getting into the perfect position for the shot, eventually firing just wide under pressure from the backtracking German defenders. And minutes later the Azzurri thought they had clinched it, only for scorer Balzaretti to be caught offside.
The last ten minutes saw the Germans frantically attack and Khedira had a good chance to put in a Lahm cross, but he was crowded out, not for the first time in the match. The Germans were handed (pun intended) a late late lifeline when they got a penalty in injury time when Balzaretti was penalised for handling the ball inside the box. Ozil brilliantly dispatched the spot-kick leading to a shaky finish to the match for the Italians. But, they did manage to hold on and deservedly went on to win 2-1 against a German team that looked impossible to beat coming into this game. Mario Balotelli proved to be the difference today as Germany kept up their tradition of choking at crucial stages.
Germany (4-2-3-1): Neuer, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Boateng (MÃ¼ller 71'), Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Ã–zil, Kroos, Podolski (Reus 46'), Gomez (Klose 46')
SUBS: Wiese, Zieler, Schmelzer, HÃ¶wedes, Mertesacker, GÃ¼ndoÄŸan, SchÃ¼rrle, MÃ¼ller, Bender, GÃ¶tze, Reus, Klose
Italy (4-1-3-2): Buffon, Chiellini, Balzaretti, Barzagli, Bonucci, Marchisio, De Rossi, Montolivo (Motta 64'), Pirlo, Balotelli (Di Natale 70'), Cassano (Diamanti 58')
SUBS: Sirigu, De Sanctis, Ogbonna, Abate, Motta, Giaccherini, Diamanti, Nocerino, Di Natale, Borini, Giovinco
Score: Germany 1-2 Italy (Balotelli 20', 36', Ozil 90+2')
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