Germany vs. Italy: Balotelli Blasts Italy into Final as Germans Fall Short Again

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterJune 28, 2012

WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28:  Mario Balotelli of Italy celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at the National Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland.  (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images)
Joern Pollex/Getty Images

So much for the advantages of extra rest, the inevitable German resurgence, and the long-gone days of "Why Always Me" as a legitimate means of mockery.

The drought drags on, the hex wrecks another German dream, and Italy—controlled, tactical, disciplined and engulfed in yet another national scandal—get one more crack at mighty Spain and unlikely glory.

And it's courtesy, lest we forget, of the artist formerly known as LOL-otelli.

Mario Balotelli scored twice and stripped down once in Italy's searing first-half performance that left Germany reeling in the semis, Europe gasping and Italians blessing their beloved 21-year-old saint. After the expected German onslaught, the defense had held firm, the Azzurri had won 2-1 and Balotelli had etched his name into a nation's sporting lore.

WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28:  Mario Balotelli (C) of Italy celebrates with team-mates after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at the National Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland.  (Phot
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Both goals drew deserved praise, but where the first stunned, the second astounded.

Sixteen minutes after giving Italy a surprise lead with a powerful near-post header, Balotelli sent Italy into raptures with a thundering outside-of-the-boot finish from the edge of the box after Riccardo Montolivo's defense-splitting pass.

WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28: Head coach Joachim Loew of Germany watches the action from the touchline during the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at the National Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

The turn of events felt hardly worthy of belief, but even more astonishing than the demise of German swagger was the fact that Italy's richly deserved lead had come with the influential genius of midfield playmaker Andrea Pirlo hardly in sight.

In this tournament, though, that's par for Italy's course.

As Euro 2012 dawned only three weeks ago, Balotelli was a wild card and Cesare Prandelli's Italy long shots, more likely to encounter police attention than fan adoration. Now, though, with a Group C rematch against Spain looming and Germany slain in stunning fashion, all involved stand on the doorstep of immortality.

What, then, can be said for Germany?

WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28: Head coach Joachim Loew (L) of Germany and his assistant coach Hansi Flick (C) show their dejection after the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at the National Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland.
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

World Cup semifinal exits in 2006—to Italy, mind—and 2010 had felt almost predetermined, as if the other half of the story was destined to be written at Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014. Even defeat at the hands of Spain in the Euro 2008 final felt reassuringly reasonable, since Germany hadn't expected even a shot at the title.

WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28:  Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany helps team-mate Holger Badstuber to his feet as Germany players show their dejection after the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at the National Stadium on June 28, 2012
Joern Pollex/Getty Images

This, though, was something else. Joachim Löw's team expected to win, and when they didn't, the disappointment—or was it despair?—steamed off their faces the way it used to fall from their finely formed offensive machine.

Where there had been goals, Thursday brought only frustration.

An early first-half barrage petered out fruitlessly, and after Super Mario's videogame-like exhibition, the second-half charge generated only a handful of poorly taken half-chances and a Marco Reus free kick that, for all its beauty, was never going to beat Gianluigi Buffon.

Mesut Ozil, appropriately enough, scored Germany's only goal, a penalty kick in second-half stoppage time. But while that was just reward for Ozil's lively display, it was more than his wasteful, under-performing teammates deserved.

WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28:  (L-R) Antonio Nocerino, Emanuele Giaccherini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Pirlo of Italy celebrate victory after the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at the National Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Warsaw, P
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Bastian Schweinsteiger shrank from the occasion. Holger Badstuber was just plain bad. Mats Hummels, so stout defensively throughout the tournament, showed his inexperience on the international stage.

As a group, the Germans panicked and played scared, perhaps mindful of their country's long history of failure against Italy. The streak now sits at eight matches in major tournaments, and if the Germans—and Italians—keep playing like this when the two old foes meet, it will stretch 18 more.

So what happened? Where was Germany's stylish, flowing football when it was needed most?

Maybe Reus should have started, maybe Löw should have stopped tinkering, or maybe the two extra days of rest actually hurt. Regardless, there will be plenty of time to dissect one of the most painful losses in German history, a tale that until 1996 had been so full of glorious victory.

But 16 years after their last title, the Germans are in danger of becoming international football's Almost Team.

For Italy, however, it's more like almost there.