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Joachim Löw’s Germany had cut a mighty swathe through UEFA EURO 2012, but met their match in an understated Italy side with a mercurial player destined to find his most devastating form in the semi-finals.WATCH THE GAME BACK IN FULL
After securing a world-record 15th successive win in the quarter-finals, crushing Greece 4-2, Joachim Löw’s Germany looked set to reach the final of UEFA EURO 2012, where holders Spain awaited. By contrast, Cesare Prandelli’s Italy had drawn three of their four games at the finals – eliminating England on penalties in the last eight – but, having never lost a competitive game against Germany, the Azzurri had reason to be quietly confident.
• Mario Balotelli: The first black player to represent Italy at a major final tournament, Manchester City forward Balotelli’s talent was never in doubt, and he was eager to put on a show for his adopted mother Silvia in the stands.
• Mesut Özil: Man of the Match in Germany’s previous game, the Real Madrid man symbolised the youthful verve of Löw’s Germany side, and came to the tournament fresh from a title-winning domestic season.
• Gianluigi Buffon: Italy captain following Fabio Cannavaro’s retirement, Buffon had over 100 caps and had proved that he was in splendid form, keeping clean sheets in his previous two finals games.
Prandelli's side had some wobbly moments to start with, but went on to neutralise Germany's dynamic approach and took the lead in the 20th minute. Antonio Cassano set up Balotelli for a powerful headed finish that was Italy’s first EURO semi-final goal in four attempts.
Germany came roaring back, but were caught out on the counter, Riccardo Montolivo’s long ball finding Balotelli, who beat Manuel Neuer with a thunderbolt shot from outside the box. Löw’s rejigged side turned up the heat in the second half, but Buffon held firm until added time, when a handball in the box allowed Özil to beat him from the penalty spot. However, the honour of facing Spain in the final was to be Italy’s.THE GAME AS IT HAPPENED
Mario Balotelli, Italy forward: “This is one of the best nights of my life but I hope it will be even better against Spain. “
Cesare Prandelli, Italy coach: “We have no time to celebrate, just concentrate on the next game which is the biggest. When you dream, you only dream big – so this is the beginning.”
Miroslav Klose, Germany forward: “Some guys are crying and you can only tell them that they have to keep their heads up… For me, there won't be many European Championships or World Cups in the future. That's why I'm as disappointed as the rest. It's hard to decide now, but I can imagine playing on for two more years to make amends for today in 2014.”
Elsewhere that evening
No other games.
Italy upset the odds in the semi-finals but their luck ran out in the decider, holders Spain denying them possession and striking twice before half-time. Reduced to ten men in the second half due to injury, the Azzurri ended up losing 4-0 – the heaviest defeat in a EURO final – as Spain became the first side to retain the Henri Delaunay trophy.
Germany, meanwhile, gained hugely from the experience of disappointment in Poland and Ukraine. The bulk of the 2012 team joined Löw at the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals, where they famously demolished hosts Brazil on the way to final victory against Argentina.