Balotelli smashes Italy into final

PA Sport
Italy's Mario Balotelli (centre) scores his side's first goal of the game
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Italy's Mario Balotelli (centre) scores his side's first goal of the game

Mario Balotelli wrote another remarkable chapter in his amazing career as he fired Italy into the Euro 2012 final with a two-goal salvo as they beat Germany 2-1 in Warsaw.

The Manchester City man rose to power home Antonio Cassano's 20th-minute cross to put the underdogs in front. Then he smashed an unstoppable shot past Manuel Neuer to double Italy's lead and take him joint-top of the Golden Boot standings.

Mesut Ozil's last-minute penalty was not enough to prevent Germany's suffering their first defeat in a competitive game since their World Cup semi-final loss to Spain two years ago.

Sitting deep on the halfway line, Germany allowed Andrea Pirlo the time to pick out returning full-back Giorgio Chiellini with a brilliant pass to the touchline. Chiellini nudged the ball on to Cassano, who swivelled past Mats Hummels with the minimum of fuss.

Balotelli immediately got himself some space behind Holger Badstuber and when the cross came, he rose to power the ball home from six yards.

If that was efficient in its execution, Balotelli's second was brutal. Advancing from deep inside his own half, Riccardo Montolivo could scarcely believe the room he was given. Twice he looked up to see if anything was on, and on the second occasion he spotted Balotelli making his run, exploiting Philipp Lahm's failure to maintain the offside line.

It took Balotelli a bit of time to get himself into a shooting position. However, as the ball sat up nicely, he smashed it past Manuel Neuer.

Low took decisive action at the interval, introducing Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus for Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski, and while the change brought some much-needed life into German ranks, their efforts at hauling themselves back into the contest were repeatedly thwarted.

Balotelli's exit with cramp meant he was denied the opportunity to become the first player to score a semi-final hat-trick since Gerd Muller did it in 1976. His replacement, Antonio Di Natale, should have wrapped up victory when he found himself in acres of space inside the box, but dragged his effort wide of the far post, much to Balotelli's frustration.

Federico Balzaretti's handball in the final minute did provide a few nerves for Italy as Ozil fired home from the spot. But Prandelli's men were able to reach the final whistle and celebrate their triumph.

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