Italy's 5 Best Moves That Got Them to the Semifinals and Where to Now
Throughout a scandal, a tough group draw and massive amounts of criticism to their side, Italy have advanced past England to make it into the semifinals of the European Championship for the first time since they were runners up in the year 2000.
It hasn't been an easy road, but there have been a few keys that have helped, and will help, the Azurri as they advance on.
Daniele De Rossi
First off, let me just say how absolutely brilliant De Rossi has been for Italy throughout the tournament. Running the midfield with Pirlo and De Rossi has been the best decision Prandelli has made thus far for the Italians.
Statistically, De Rossi does not impress much on the attacking side with no goals and no assists, and only one shot on target out of nine total shots. But anyone who has watched his performances stemming from their opening match against Spain can tell you that the statistics are flat wrong when measuring his performance.
De Rossi has been massive for Italy, always being in the right spot at the right time.
His intelligence for the game is one of the biggest reasons that the side has survived. If he keeps up his red hot performances, maybe one of those volleys just might sneak in.
Forget the brilliant penalty, forget the free kick against Croatia and his two assists this tournament.
Looking at Pirlo, most men would say okay, so this Italian side is being led by some 33-year-old that hasn't scored an international goal for Italy since Euro qualifying in 2010? Bring him on. If that's what Pirlo heard, then he certainly has a reason to be fired up.
33-years-old or not, Andrea Pirlo is one of the top 10 players in the tournament so far and deserves all credit being given to him.
His ball movement, awareness and constant threat to his opponents makes him deadly to deal with even when you're not expecting it.
What you can expect is to see Pirlo go all out against the Germans this Thursday, and if he scores the winning goal or penalty, know that it's meant to be.
Flying under the radar, Buffon's performance against England helps me believe that he can still play with the big dogs like Casillas and Neuer, and that Germany won't have it as easy as they might think.
Buffon played excellently against the English as he has been since Day 1 and although he wasn't the main reason Italy is moving on, he isn't exactly a small part.
Only making one save coming off a point blank Glen Johnson shot in the fifth minute, Buffon didn't have much to worry about.
When it came to penalties, he only saved once, letting England's dismal run of penalties run it's course. Rooney and Gerrard both took good penalties, but Ashley Young's failure to put his on target and Ashley Cole's slow roller almost gave Italy the match.
There is no question however that Buffon's run as a solid keeper isn't over, and that he still has more to give.
Mario Balotelli again today proved his critics wrong.
Seven shots on goal in 11 attempts, a penalty in the shootout and a few very close near-misses showed Super Mario is bound to grab his much needed goal very soon.
His constant ability to pinpoint a shot from almost anywhere poses a big threat to any team he faces. Whether it be a no spin, high riser from 25-yards out, an overhead kick from 12-yards out, or a bouncing half volley from six-yards out, Balotelli is always ready to strike any chance he is given.
True, Balotelli went another match in the Euros without scoring a goal. But it is my belief that had Joe Hart not done so well today, Balotelli would have certainly scored. It says something about a player when they have over one-thirds of their team's shots on target in the game.
When it came to the penalty, Balotelli wasn't messing around either planting it low and left of Hart. He may not have scored yet in regulation, but if he puts in another performance like today's, then the ball is bound to be in the back of the net sooner than later.
Italy's Team Effort
It was an all around brilliant performance from Italy against England.
Dominating possession (64 percent / 36 percent), shooting 35 times and putting 20 of those on frame and defeating England in just about every aspect of the game, Italy is quickly putting more and more critics to shame after advancing this time.
No player had a bad game this time around for Italy, and knowing now what they are capable of, don't expect a poor performance against a very ready German side.
Italy has shown they have what it takes, now they need to capitalize.
The Azurri Is Ready
What's been a wild ride for the Italians still isn't over as they have advanced to the semifinals of the European Championship and will face Germany on Thursday at 2:45 p.m. ET.
Toughing it out of the group stage and impressing in today's spectacular performance, Italy deserves to be where they're at and they're not done yet.
Look for even more of a blue army now, because Italy is ready to play.