- Last Updated: 5:23 AM, June 29, 2012
- Posted: 3:15 AM, June 29, 2012
WARSAW, Poland — Mario Balotelli finally showed some quality finishing, scoring twice in the first half yesterday to give Italy a 2-1 win over Germany and an unexpected spot in the European Championship final.
Extending its winless streak against Italy in major tournaments to eight matches, Germany had no answer for Balotelli, nor Antonio Cassano’s creativity.
In the 20th minute, Balotelli had no trouble getting past Holger Badstuber to head in a pinpoint cross from Cassano. Then in the 36th, the 21-year-old striker received the ball behind the defense and blasted a long shot into the top right corner.
Though he did score against Ireland, Balotelli was criticized for wasting numerous chances against Spain, Croatia and England.
“This is the greatest night of my life, but I hope Sunday is going to be even better,” said Balotelli, who went over to his mother after the match and dedicated the goals to her. “In the opening matches I had a lot of chances, and I wasn’t able to finish them. But in football you also need luck.”
Germany failed to trouble Italy for much of the match, but Mesut Oezil scored a consolation penalty in injury time after Federico Balzaretti was whistled for a handball.
Germany had entered the game on a world record 15-match winning streak in competitive matches.
“It’s a very bitter defeat,” Germany captain Philipp Lahm said. “We tried everything in the second half but our goal came too late. We have so much potential in our team, but if we cannot give the right performance at the right time or are not clever enough, then we lose such a game.”
Italy will face defending champion Spain in Sunday’s final in Kiev, Ukraine — a rematch of their 1-1 draw that opened Group C.
“We showed we’re on Spain’s level, and that’s where we started this run,” Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio said. “It’s no longer a question of fear. Now we’ve got to pull out everything we still have inside ourselves.”
Though Italy has won four World Cups, including 1982 and 2006, it’s only Euro title came in 1968. The Azzurri have managed to maintain their focus despite a match-fixing and betting scandal at home.
“All I can say is that when you talk about Italy, everyone needs to be careful,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. “We played an extraordinary match.”
On a pleasant evening at the National Stadium Warsaw, Cassano set up the opening goal by befuddling Germany defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng to lift the ball in Balotelli’s direction.
The second goal began with a long vertical pass from Riccardo Montolivo, whose mother is German. Balotelli collected the pass with his back to the goal, controlled the ball with his chest then sprinted forward and unleashed a blazing shot from the edge of the area as Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer again stood immobile.
With three goals, Balotelli moved level with four other players for the tournament scoring lead. After the match, Prandelli was asked if this was the best match of Balotelli’s career.
“Balotelli’s career has just started,” Prandelli said.
Balotelli took off his jersey after his second goal, which drew an automatic yellow card, although he will not miss the final.
Even before scoring, Italy controlled the pace of the match, although Germany did have several chances from Hummels, Toni Kroos and Oezil.
In the 35th, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon preserved the Azzurri lead by swatting away a long shot from Sami Khedira — and Balotelli doubled the lead a minute later.— APFollow @NYPostsports