Super Mario finally came to play in full force Thursday.
After a so-so performance in the quarters, Balotelli sliced through the German defense in this match, consistently putting himself in dangerous positions and scoring a brace that just oozed class.
The first goal came courtesy of strike partner Antonio Cassano, who took a feed from Giorgio Chiellini and beat Mats Hummels to send in a cross. Balotelli leaped over Holger Badstuber and thumped his header past Manuel Neuer, who was moving to his left to follow the cross and was unable to change direction in time.
The second came from the express lane, assisted by Montolivo, who launched a long pass that found Balotelli onside in between the German defenders. Philip Lahm tried to get across to disrupt him, but Balotelli fired an absolute rocket from 18 yards into the top-right corner, leaving Neuer no chance to make a play.
It was unfortunate, though, that Balotelli decided to celebrate that second goal by whipping off his jersey and posing. While the pose was indeed intimidating (those muscles would make Chuck Norris feel inadequate), the automatic booking that came with the removal of his shirt caused some nervy moments as the game wore on as the Italian fans prayed he didn't pick up a second yellow and a suspension for the final. He didn't do anything that would remotely merit such a decision from French referee Stephane Lannoy. He even came back on defense a few times, mopping up a loose ball in the 38th minute.
He nearly picked up a hat trick on the hour, but his shot from the right inside the box curled outside of Neuer's post.
It was somewhat concerning that he cramped up so early in the game—he hit the deck in the 69th minute and was immediately replaced with Antonio Di Natale. One way or the other, he figures to be prominent figure in the final against Spain, where he'll need to replicate this performance—not the indifferent performance of the group stage opener between the two teams—for his team to have a chance.