Super Mario and a Football Match
Michel Platini might be feeling relieved now. He expressed his (innocent) desire of seeing Spain compete against Germany in the Euro final. What could have been a natural wish for someone to watch the two top ranked teams of Europe fight for the continental glory, coming from a certain Platini, the comments did not go down well among the football fans. Or it might just have sparked the Azzurris. They totally dominated the game where a German victory was on the cards.
Italy 2 Germany 1
M Balotelli (1-0), M Balotelli (2-0), M Ozil (2-1)
Italy went into the match with quite a few injury problems. Their two preferred right backs were unavailable forcing Cesare Prandelli to field left back Federico Balzaretti in an unusual position. It was interesting to see who feature in the attacking positions for Germany after Joachim Low rotated his squad in the quarter final against Greece. While Mario Gomez and Lucas Podoloski returned to the starting line up, Tony Kroos also retained his place.
The match started with Italy looking to up the ante. They have not won a single game thus far in the tournament baring the opener against a lowly Irish side. But their approach to the semi final was a refreshing one. Ricardo Montolivo almost found Mario Balotelli through in the opening minutes. On the other end of the pitch, Andre Pirlo saved the blushes for Gianluigi Buffon as he cleared Mats Hummels’ goal bound effort off a corner from the goal line. But that was the only noteworthy effort from the German team in the first half. Italy got on with the game quickly and Antonio Cassano tested Manuel Neuer quite a few time during this period. He created the opener in the 20th minute when he tricked a couple fo defenders and curled in a superb ball for Balotelli to head home from a few yards out. 1-0 to Italy.
Germany tried to gete level before half time and Sami Khedira forced Buffon to make a spectacular save in the 35th minute. But instead, it was Balotelli, who scored again in the next minute. Montolivo’s delightful long ball was met with a timely run by Balotelli to beat the offside trap. He muscled past Holder Badstuber before firing in the top corner.2-0 to Italy and the half time could not have come sooner for the Germans.
In a usual 4-1-3-2 formation, many expected that the Italian wingers will protect their fullbacks by tracking back as much as possible. But they were encouraged to venture forward by a lacklustre Podoloski and Kroos, playing out of position as a wide man in the right hand side of the midfield. Low had seen enough and he broght in record scorer Miroslav Kolse and winger Marco Reus at the start of the second half. Reus had a good game with his direct approach and lighting pace down the left hand side to go with a brilliant free kick which Buffon just about managed to tip over. At the start of the second half, German captain Philipp Lahm found himself in the open just inside the penalty area but scuffed his shot over the bar. Had he scored, things could have been very different. On the other hand, Italy could have easily played on the counter with a two goal lead. And they did exactly that. With task master Pirlo at total control, Italy kept a decent hold on the ball – 46% possession overall proves that.
With 20 minutes to go Germany took the gamble with bringing in Thomas Muller in place of right back Jerome Boetang. Italy capitalized as Germany lost their shape and should have killed the game as at least twice they broke with a man advantage but Di Natale, coming on for Balotelli, failed to convert. In the injury time, Mesult Ozil scored from the spot as was penalised for handling the ball inside penalty area. But it was too little too late. Italy finished victorious at 2-1.
Germany was totally shocked against such a motivated team. Italy failed to win a single corner the entire match whereas they conceded 14. But they created more clear-cut chances – even before Germany was playing with only two men at the back offering lots of open spaces. It was given that he will create headlines, but Balotelli ensured this night he remains on the lats page instead of the Page 3. Low now must think was it right to scramble a well performing side in the knock out stages of a tournament. They might have won the match but it surely had unsettled some of his players. Germany has been playing well for the last few years but their failure to win any silverware is a worrying sign.
Italy will now take on Spain in a group stage re-match. That was Italy’s best showing so far before today. They will be confident to take on the mighty Spanish Armada, especially having hold them off earlier. Pirlo has shown that he might be 34, but he can dictate terms against a polished German midfield. There is no reason why he cannot do so against Spain – playing 6 men in that zone does not necessarily guaranty a result.
After a series of matches where there was seldom any meaningful joust between teams, Italy and Germany – the two biggest football powers of Europe, produced a classic. It was a match well fought. Germany didn’t lose it. Italy won it. The Germans played well but seldom created clear chances which could have led to a goal. The Italians created and converted in the first half and so could afford to play the second half on the counter. Italian midfielders were sensational. Balotelli was, for once, focussed on the task at hand. Germany probably deserved a final, having won 16 matches on the trot, but clearly at crucial junctures, the inexperience of their players (Hummels, Badstuber, Kroos) showed. Probably the man who was sitting in the ESPN studio, Michael Ballack, should have been out there to rouse the spirit of Die Mannschaft. Gli Azzurri has found their Pied Piper though and its to be seen if the Spanish tiki taka can withstand them.
“We haven’t done anything yet, as it’d be like going to Rome and not seeing The Pope. We are in the Final, but we need the victory.”
“I could’ve used another line-up, but Gomez had scored three goals and Podolski netted too, so I thought it was right to play them together.”
Joachim Low, Germany manager.