Mario Balotelli was absolutely explosive for Italy, netting two goals in the semifinal against Germany to advance his team into the final match of the 2012 UEFA European Championship.
But do Balotelli and the Italians have what it takes to end the Spanish dynasty?
“We have no time to celebrate, just concentrate on the next game which is the biggest,” said Italian head coach Cesare Prandelli (as reported by Sam Adams of UEFA.com). “When you dream, you only dream big—so this is the beginning. Spain are a terrific side, but we will prepare very well like we did tonight.”
The final match appears to be a coin toss. Both teams met during the group stage of the contest and the match ended in a 1-1 tie. Italian Forward Antonio Di Natale scored the first goal but midfielder Cesc Fàbregas of Spain answered back with a goal of his own.
Di Natale should have kept the ball as a memento—his goal has been the only one in this tournament to make it past Spanish keeper Iker Casillas. Spain's defense has blanked every other team they have played.
The Italians held their own but looked a bit slow in their group match against Spain. The Spanish played their possession game, careful not to give Italy an inch after letting up the first goal.
However, this is a much different Italian team.
Knowing they were not a favorite to even make the semifinal, Italy are now the riled-up underdogs.
Who will win the Euro 2012?
As they have already shown in this tournament, the Italians are not afraid of having the odds stacked against them. They stuck to a ball-control approach in order to minimize errors against an aggressively over-confident German team that flew out of the gates looking for an early strike.
Balotelli's teammates were bursting with excitement for him and his semifinal success. Nothing rallies a team more than seeing their star player produce.
However, as the reigning World Cup champion, Spain has been in a league of their own throughout Euro 2012, especially in how they've refused to break down, to make mistakes.
Both Spain and Italy play very similar games—patient, well-structured and highly defensive. Neither side will be giving the other an inch, which makes a penalty-kick finish very foreseeable.
“We don't have to fear [Spain] and their ball possession,” said Balotelli (via UEFA.com). "We have already scored against them, we are as strong as them, if not more so.”
Balotelli ripping off his shirt after his second goal was more than just a celebration of a miraculous strike—it was Mario speaking on behalf of his team, telling Europe and the world that Italy has arrived.