WARSAW, POLAND - JUNE 28: Mario Balotelli (R) of Italy jumps next to Holger Badstuber of Germany to score the opening goal past Manuel Neuer of Germany during the UEFA EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy at National Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Depending on what you read and to whom you listened, Euro 2012 was a two horse race between Germany and Spain, the youthful attack against the battle-tested tiki-taka. Fortunately for and because of the Azzurri, only one half of that prophecy has been fulfilled.
Prophecies usually don't account for statistics, which is too bad for the Germans because the numbers were on their side: Germany had more possession 56% to 44%, more shots 20 to 11, more shots on target 8 to 4, won 71% of aerials, passed more accurately 82% to 79% and won more corners 14-0....read that again, 14-0!
Prophecies and quantitative analysis aside, capitalizing on early scoring chances was essential to success in this match.
Thanks to Mario Balotelli, that's exactly what they did. Balotelli was at the receiving end of a beautiful out-swinging cross from the feet of Antonio Cassano, which Super Mario headed towards the near post, past Manuel Neuer, who, thanks to Cassano's deft touch, was heading towards the far post. This goal was as much Cassano as it was Balotelli, as Cassano received the ball from Giorgio Chiellini in traffic, split two defenders, and delivered the perfect cross.
Balotelli struck again in the 36' with an absolute cannon shot in the upper right hand corner, following a flawless long ball from Riccardo Montolivo. There was little Neuer could do to save what is surely the goal of the tournament.
Regardless of outcome of Sunday's final, Euro 2012, from an Italian perspective at least, will be remembered for Balotelli's ascendency on the international stage, Daniele De Rossi cementing himself as one of the world's best midfielders and most indispensable players, and Andrea Pirlo not-so-subtly reminding the world that bloom is not yet off his rose.
So on to Sunday march the Azzurri, with a date against a Spanish side hell-bent on making history by claiming an unprecedented Euro-World Cup-Euro trifecta. Italy will have the chance to claim two major titles in six years, an impressive feat in its own right.
Italy is peaking at the precise moment, Sunday promises to be an exciting match.