German Euro express train derailed by immaculate Italy
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
With the participants for the final of Euro 2012 confirmed, our Euro 2012 correspondent Adam Hurrey gives us his thoughts on Italy's surprise semifinal win over Germany.
Italy will meet Spain in the final of Euro 2012 in Kiev on Sunday, after a stunning win against much-fancied Germany here in Warsaw last night.
German fans descended on the city yesterday in search of tickets, and the atmosphere in the National Stadium before kick-off was one of eager expectation. Fans of both sides were dotted around the huge arena on a warm evening in the capital, with the Germans the markedly more confident before kick-off. Lukas Podolski, Toni Kroos and Mario Gomez were recalled after Joachim Low’s tinkering against Greece in the quarter-finals, as Germany reverted to their full-strength line-up.
This was a delightfully open game from the kick-off. Germany began to mount the pressure on Buffon, but they were hit with a hammer blow from Italy’s man of the moment.
Mario Balotelli’s devastating double heralded his arrival at the top table of world football. His second goal, after a perfectly-timed run to latch on to a superb pass from Riccardo Montolivo, gave Manuel Neuer little hope as it crashed into the top corner. It made his opener look relatively simple in comparison – Antonio Cassano’s left-wing cross eluded Holger Badstuber, found Balotelli and it would arguably have been easier to miss. Balotelli finally succumbed to cramp after 70 minutes, but his job was quite emphatically done. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique await in the final, and they will undoubtedly relish the challenge. Balotelli, despite downplaying his goalscoring exploits recently, will have an eye on the Golden Boot to further enhance his burgeoning global reputation.
Germany, despite Low’s pre-match assurances, could find no antidote to the metronomic Pirlo in the centre of midfield. Italy’s passing throughout was slick, incisive and positive – a far cry from the increasingly irrelevant stereotype of the Italian game. Mario Gomez, so prolific for Bayern Munich this season and who had started the tournament so well, was marshalled into anonymity by the Italian defence, and was replaced by Miroslav Klose at half-time.
Italy were picking off Germany on the break, but couldn’t find the third goal that would have sealed their place in the final and averted any jitters in the final moments. Antonio Di Natale and, twice, Claudio Marchisio failed to apply the icing to Italy’s cake. A penalty for Germany -scored by Mezut Ozil after Federico Balzaretti's handball - arrived too late to set up the grandstand finish that the neutrals may have wanted. Neuer, diving headers on the halfway line and all, summed up the Germans’ desperation for an equaliser, but his opposite number Buffon was repelling everything that was thrown at his defence.
Germany, the youngest squad in the tournament by some distance, can afford to be philosophical in defeat as they now look forward to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, when they will again be regarded as justifiable contenders. Ruthless efficiency, despite their failings in Warsaw last night, remains part of the German football tapestry, but the flair and artistry of Ozil and Schweinsteiger is now their most eye-catching quality.
Meanwhile, the Italians have confounded the critics, much as they did at the World Cup in 2006. Prandelli’s bold approach, encapsulated perfectly here, has paid off. Italy’s sheer energy was as impressive as it was unexpected after their extra-time exertions against England, with Pirlo second only to Marchisio in terms of distance covered. Tallied with his pass completion of 81%, there would seem to be plenty of life in the old dog yet. Pirlo now faces a tense scrap for possession against Spain’s midfield in Kiev.
A tactically-aware European Championships reaches its climax on Sunday, with the final promising to be another fascinating game of strategy. The two sides could not be separated when they met in Gdansk nearly three weeks ago but Balotelli has raised his game since.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque continues to deliberate over his attacking set-up, with Torres, Fabregas and, finally, Negredo all being handed an opportunity to stake their claim. Whoever gets the nod will face a superbly-marshalled, athletic Italian defence, buoyed by their stifling of a vaunted Germany.
Adam will be covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog with thanks to our friends at Betfair.
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Too bad Germany was defeated by a team that couldn't beat Croatia,defeated Ireland scoring from two corners and qualified through penalties vs England. Why the luck is always against the germans??! Why??!