The fireworks, the impromptu prison visits – even the studs-up challenge on Alex Song and the arguments with Roberto Mancini. All these things contributed to make a reputation for Mario Balotelli but what no one can argue with is the kind of performance that takes a tournament by the throat and changes it.
That was Balotelli last night against Germany, a two-goal matchwinner who took his country into the final of Euro 2012. He might not have passed the ball as beautifully as Andrea Pirlo, or run as far as Daniele De Rossi but when it mattered Balotelli finished with a certainty that is heartbreaking for the opposition.
This was a peerless assassination of young, keen Germany by Italy who picked them off twice in the first 36 minutes and then defended with control. For Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, the two centre-halves, it was a calculated, determined performance. The right-back Federico Balzaretti gave away a late penalty, that Mesut Ozil scored, which set-up a tense last few minutes but Italy rarely looked rattled.
In midfield, Bastian Schweinsteiger, clearly not completely fit, struggled against Pirlo. Toni Kroos stepped up to mark him but the Italian drifted away into space. This is a talented Germany team but something is lacking when it comes to taking the final step.
When Pirlo had to block a mishit shot from Mats Hummels on the line with five minutes gone it looked like Germany might overwhelm their opponents. . That changed on 20 minutes. It was Pirlo's ball that found Giorgio Chiellini in an advanced position on the left. He gave the ball to Antonio Cassano who got away from Hummels too easily and picked out Balotelli, whose header was punched past Manuel Neuer.
The goal threw Germany and on 36 minutes Balotelli scored again. Montolivo's ball over the top to him was hit by Riccardo Montolivo and it caught Philipp Lahm badly out of position. Balotelli set off towards goal and the ball sat up for him. He struck his shot with breathtaking power.
Low needed a goal quickly and he made immediate changes. Mario Gomez, who had struggled, was replaced with Miroslav Klose. Lukas Podolski came off for Marco Reus.
Germany created chances early on, but otherwise Italy defended heroically, all the time threatening on the counter-attack.
After Ozil's penalty, by which time Neuer had already joined the attack, there was tension as the Germans surged forward. But Italy deserved this win. So did their goalscorer.Reuse content