Germany vs. Italy: 6 Things We Learned from Euro 2012 Semifinal
It was all decided. It had all been preordained. Many planned for it at the beginning of the tournament, and it was a foregone conclusion that it would happen once both teams made the semifinals.
Germany and Spain, the two best teams on the planet, were always expected to face each other in a thrilling final at Euro 2012.
Then Italy came along.
The Italians, with two goals from Mario Balotelli and some heroic defending, crashed the party to clinch a meeting in the final with Spain.
Here are six things we can take from an exhilarating game of football.
Joachim Low Out-Managed Himself
Joachim Low was never happy with his starting XI throughout this whole tournament.
Even though the same side had won all three of its group-stage games, the German manager tinkered with his lineup against Greece in the quarterfinals and did so again versus Italy.
It might have worked against the Greeks, but Germany just did not have the right chemistry today with a new addition, Toni Kroos, on the right wing and Mario Gomez at striker.
It was not until the second half, when some of the best players from their last match came on, that the Germans created good chances and drove forward with vigor.
The German Defence Lost the Game
Take a look at both Italian goals and you will see examples of very poor defending from a normally stingy German team.
Holger Badstuber let Mario Balotelli get behind him on the first goal, and it was a very simple header for the striker in the end.
And the killer strike was precipitated by a total disaster at the back for Germany. On a set piece, nobody except Philipp Lahm decided to stay in the center to guard against a counterattack, leaving Balotelli an easy target for a player 40 yards away.
Manuel Neuer Is a Beast
I would be remiss if I didn't mention how impressed I was by Manuel Neuer during this game, even if he did concede two goals.
He was consistently a massive presence between the sticks for Germany and displayed a will to win that equals any player in the world.
At every opportunity during the late stages of the match, Neuer would rush forward to get involved in the attack in any way he could, even contributing a diving header from the center circle that pushed the ball into the penalty area.
Many things are to blame for Germany's premature exit, but the goalkeeper is certainly not one of them.
Super Mario Still Exists
It is widely known that it is impossible to know what Mario Balotelli will do every time he steps on the pitch, and even his manager is never sure which version of the striker will arrive on any given day.
We've seen him benched recently because the Balotelli we have seen lately has been the volatile, unproductive and whiny version of the striker and more consistent options like Antonio Di Natale sat on the bench.
But against Germany, we saw that that marvelous Balotelli still comes out often, and he had easily his best game of the tournament, scoring a well-worked header and a wicked strike into the top corner off a counterattack.
There is no question now of whether or not he will start the final.
More Rest, More Problems
A major talking point during the past couple days has been the imbalances in the schedule that caused one team in each semifinal to have two less days of rest and preparation than the other.
It is patently unfair, but on both occasions the side that was put at a disadvantage triumphed over the supposedly better positioned one.
I thought that, after playing a grueling 120-minute match against England and only having a couple days to recover, Italy would be dropping like flies in the second half. Instead, they just played their game even better and booked a deserved place in the finals.
Italy Can Win the Whole Thing
No one gave them a chance a few days ago, even a few hours ago, but Italy will feel now that they have a legitimate chance of vanquishing Spain against all odds in the final.
As long as the Italians do not show the Spanish juggernaut any respect, they will be in a very good position with their admirable solidity at the back and the extremely potent Mario Balotelli.
Plus, since few expected the Azzurri to get as far as they have, all the pressure will be on Spain to win their third major championship in a row over a supposedly weaker team.
With the form the Italians are in, the confidence they have, a remarkably strong core of players and prior knowledge of their opponents from the group stage, do not put it past Buffon, Pirlo and Co. to become champions of Europe for the second time.