It’s been decided. The winner of the last 2 World Cups will contest the final on Sunday. Italy played the perfect game to see off the challenge of Germany to set up a rematch of their group game against Spain. That group match stands as one of the best technical matches I’ve seen in this European Championship 2012, surely there’s no harm in having another viewing of it.
Germany will go back wondering how they let it come to this. Two moments of defensive lapses was ultimately what cost them the chance to play on Sunday. Italy did cut through them time and again in the second part of the second half, but that was when Germany were chasing for the goals and had mostly abandoned any defensive shape.
Joachim Loew sprung another surprise ahead of this game by giving Toni Kroos his first start of the campaign. It does show just how must faith he has in his charges. That and the fact that Kroos never looked out of place on the field, mentally such a strong lad to be able to come in a semi final of a major tournament and go about with his job. That said, his inclusion was probably the reason why Germany failed to impose themselves on the game.
Kroos’ presence meant Mezut Ozil had to be shifted out to the right hand side, to which limits the influence that the Real Madrid man could have in the middle. Perhaps Loew wanted a mobile interchangeable trio in the middle to combat that of their opponent. But quite simply, the number game won Italy the match. Their midfield four, which were largely very central, quickly overpowered the Germans. Pirlo sitting at the base with De Rossi screening in front of him and the duo of Marchisio-Montolivo tasked with supporting the midfield and attack.
While Mario Gomez had a game to forget. Setting up one chance for Ozil apart, he was largely anonymous. The same could not be said of the Mario in blue. Not red, not green but blue. Mario Balotelli will rightly claim all the plaudits for which he was the tip of the sword that struck into German hearts. As I mentioned yesterday, Badstuber and Hummels struggles against an athletic and robust centre forward. Balotelli was that with a touch of skill and ingenuity. Strength and desire to get his head to the ball for the first goal. Touch, control and power for his second. Both times, neither centrebacks were on hand to challenge him, which gave Neuer little chance of saving either.
Balotelli momentarily lost his cool when he celebrated his opener but quickly regained calm when he scored his second and remembered his postman quote. Taking off his shirt was perhaps a little bit stupid but we just have to embrace him the way he is. The fact that there was not a single chance for the referee to give him a second yellow was, perhaps indicative that for once, he had his actions in checked.
To their credit, Germany did come back into the game in the second half but found a wall standing firm in front of them. Loew introduced Klose and Reus for the ineffective duo of Gomez and Podolski at the start of the second half and immediately they went on the front foot. Yet, the wall could not be dented nor budged. Bonucci and Barzagli provided the perfect barrier between Germany and their goal. When they fail, there was Buffon.
Buffon yesterday provided another timely reminder that we shouldn’t be so quick to dismissed him. Here was a keeper who was once acclaimed to be the best in the world. Judging from he performance yesterday and in Serie A last season, perhaps he’s not quite ready to go down the other side of the hill just yet. When there were rumours that Juventus were not inclined to offer him a new contract at the start of 2010/11, I wanted Arsene Wenger to snap him up. Here’s a keeper whom a great deal of knowledge could be imparted on to Wojciech Szczesny. Yesterday though, a reminder of Buffon’s quality, highlighted by that brilliant save from Reus’ freekick.
Balzaretti on the right and Chiellini on the left of Italy’s defence also contributed to the outcome by stifling the German advances on the flanks and pushing them in-field. That made it a very narrow game for Germany to play. With the 7 midfielders in the middle, it made for a very congested patch on the field. Which makes it easier for the likes of De Rossi, Pirlo and Marchisio to win the possession back for Italy.
Neuer could probably have played as a centreback given the distance he gets on those clearing headers but his forays in the opposition penalty box yielded no equaliser. This was after Ozil pulled one back when Balzaretti handled inside the box. There wasn’t much time afterwards for Germany to find the equaliser and they will now start thinking of holiday plans instead of a Euro final.
Italy has surprised many in this championship. I had them coming into the semi final but I never thought they were this good. Germany could have no complaints, they were well and truly beaten. Another case of nearly story for them. Corruption in Serie A does seem to jolt Italy into action, doesn’t it.
A good final to look forward to, hopefully.