Mario Balotelli shows what he is worth
WARSAW, Poland ● In the end it was Mario 2, Germany 1, but overall it was the real Super Mario show on a night that the world watched and saw Italy beat the team, that most thought would sail into the final of Euro 2012.
Germany however was stunned, stung and hurt so much it could never recover from the blows Mario Balotelli and his squad delivered to Joacchim Loew and his mannschaft in the first half of the semi -final in Warsaw.
It was a knock-out even the Germans never expected to happen.
The Germans had started the match superior. Joachim Loew once more was counting on the impact of striker Mario Gomez.
The German Super Mario was favoured instead of Miroslav Klose, who was in the starting line-up for Germany against Greece, because at that time Loew thought Gomez was not focused enough.
It may have been a decision Loew will regret for the rest of his life. Gomez simply was not sharp enough and could not help Germany to a deserved advantage in the first quarter of the game.
Germany paid the ultimate price.
While Italy had started the game nervously and made tons of defensive errors, it had one kind of player Germany did not.
Until now it had not been his championship and even in Italy he was ridiculed with a cartoon in one of the most leading newspapers which showed him as King Kong swatting at airplanes at the Empire State building.
Balotelli rightfully was not amused and went on a personal quest to silence them all.
Germany had the misfortune it was against them.
His first goal was a magnificent and powerful header, which goalie Neuer could only see after the ball was in the net. Less than a dozen minutes later Balotelli put all his frustration in a shot, where this time only Neuer could swat at and fail.
From then on Germany was lost. They totally lost their regular swagger and resourcefulness. Even the Loew’s substitutes Reus and Klose, for Podolski and Gomez, could not change that.
Only a penalty kick in extra time, Mesut Ozil, brought the hope back in the hearts of the disillusioned fans, but time simply ran out for Germany.
“It’s a very bitter defeat. We made stupid mistakes that led to the goals,” 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 are now unbeaten in eight competitive matches against Germany and the enigmatic 21-year-old Balotelli was the major reason for that.
In Italy his coaches have been saying for years that he has the potential to become one of the best players in the world but until Thursday, he had yet to prove it.
But in two moments of clinical brilliance in the first half, the Manchester City star buried Germany and made a mockery of the pre-match betting odds.
On 20 minutes he showed a striker’s instinct to find a yard of space behind Holger Badstuber to head home Antonio Cassano’s left wing cross from six yards out.
And then nine minutes from the break he gambled and won as Philipp Lahm failed to cut out Riccardo Montolivo’s long ball and the forward was away and running in on Manuel Neuer before smashing the ball into the top corner with unerring confidence.
That showed he is learning and indeed listening to his coach Cesare Prandelli who has been urging him all tournament to try to get behind the defence to stretch the opposition.
And when Prandelli decided to switch to a more defensive five-man midfield 10 minutes into the second period, it was Cassano who was hauled off leaving Balotelli to play the disciplined lone frontman role until cramp ended his night 20 minutes from time.
In truth he wasn’t the only hero in a blue shirt as Andrea Pirlo was majestic in dictating play and tempo while Cassano was a constant thorn in the side of the German defence.
In fact it was his fancy footwork and pirouette to escape the attentions of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng that created the space from which he could pick out Balotelli with a cross on the first goal.
And in the build-up it was Pirlo’s ability to retain possession and find space with a feint here and twist of the hips there that left Mesut Ozil backing off.
That allowed the Juventus playmaker to rake a long ball out to Giorgio Chiellini on the left, stretching the play before the full-back passed to Cassano to dance through the right side of the defence.
Despite their important contributions, it was only right that Balotelli should steal the show with his cool brace.
His team-mate Daniele De Rossi had called him an “ometto” last week, an Italian word that means someone who is becoming a man and starting to take responsibility.
That he certainly did but he then stripped off his shirt to celebrate his second goal, a move that earned a booking, demonstrating that he is not yet the finished article, either as a player or a man.
On the hour mark he was guilty of going for glory and screwing a shot wide when two runners had scampered into better positions screaming for a pass.
But Italy held on and Balotelli, the errant wildman more known for his madcap antics than his footballing prowess, finally made his biggest headlines on the pitch.