With the ongoing European Championships reaching the business end, football fans are eagerly perusing the Euro 2021 betting odds to try and predict the winners. It’s been a hugely entertaining tournament, but also an unpredictable one at times, and plenty are scratching their heads as to what will happen next.
At the time of writing, Italy are still going strong, and thinking about the Azzurri at the Euros brings back plenty of memories, not least the semi-finals of Euro 2012, where they produced a memorable performance to sink Germany and reach the showpiece match against Spain.
Of course, that night in Warsaw was defined by one player: Mario Balotelli. His two goals made all the difference, and it’s fair to say that it remains the greatest game of the controversial striker’s career. Let’s take an in-depth look at that match between two footballing heavyweights.
For Italy, the group stage hadn’t exactly been a walk in the park. After a credible draw with Spain in their opening match, Italy could only muster a point from their match against Croatia, and were left needing a victory against the Republic of Ireland in their final group match to progress. They got the job done in the end, thanks to a first-half goal from Antonio Cassano and a late volleyed finish by Balotelli. In the quarter-finals, a goalless 120 minutes against England led to a penalty-shootout, which the Italians duly won to advance to the last four.
Germany’s path to the semi-finals was much more straight-forward, winning all three of their matches in the tournament’s ‘group of death’, which also contained Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark. From there, they hammered Greece 4-1 in the quarter-finals, and they were highly fancied to turn over the Italians in Warsaw.
As we all know, Italy and Balotelli had other ideas. From the start of the match, Germany looked nervy. After all, the Italians boasted the superior record in knockout matches between the two nations, and history weighed heavily on German shoulders that night.
It took just 20 minutes for Italy to take the lead, and it was Balotelli who delivered the blow, leaping high to get on the end of Cassano’s cross and power the ball past Manuel Neuer in the German goal. Advantage Italy.
The defining image of that match came just 16 minutes later. Balotelli picked the ball up about 30 yards from goal having been played in behind the German defence, and from the edge of the penalty area he released a thunderbolt into the top corner. His celebration is one that will live long in the memory, ripping off his shirt and flexing his muscles in intimidating fashion.
Night to remember
Indeed, intimidation is the perfect word to describe that Italian win. A late Mesut Özil penalty was nothing but a footnote in the end, as Italy fully deserved their 2-1 triumph and a spot in the final.
Having won the World Cup six years ago, Italy had been handed a chance to win their first Euros since 1968. It wasn’t meant to be in the end, as Spain ran out comfortable 4-0 winners in the final, but the victory over Germany in the semis, and the brutish, pulsing dominance of Balotelli, will live long in the memory of Italian football fans.