Italy upset tournament favorite Germany 2-1 to move into the final of the European soccer championship against defending champion Spain.
Mario Balotelli scored both goals last night at the National Stadium in Warsaw to lead Italy to the final for the third time. Italy won its only European championship in 1968 and lost the title match to France 12 years ago.
Mesut Ozil scored with a penalty kick in second-half injury time for Germany, which had its 15-match winning streak in competitive games stopped. The Germans were the favorite of bookmakers to win a record-extending fourth title.
“We have played an extraordinary game,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told reporters. “We have given an example of how to show grace and an attachment to the shirt.”
He said Balotelli was “brilliant, but this was a team effort.”
Italy, which is unbeaten in eight competitive matches with Germany, faces Spain in Kiev on July 1. Spain is trying to become the first team to successfully defend its European title.
Germany was looking to reach consecutive Euro finals after losing 1-0 to the Spanish four years ago. The Germans last won the title in 1996.
“It was a very, very bitter defeat,” German captain Philipp Lahm said on the website of tournament organizer UEFA. “In the second half we tried everything, but our goal came too late.”
Defender Mats Hummels almost gave Germany the lead in the fifth minute when he directed Toni Kroos’s corner kick past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, only to have the ball blocked by Andrea Pirlo at the post.
Buffon then fumbled Jerome Boateng’s low shot, with the rebound going out for a corner off defender Andrea Barzagli, and also punched out Kroos’s shot. German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer stopped Italy’s first two chances from Riccardo Montolivo and Antonio Cassano.
Italy took the lead on 20 minutes as Cassano worked himself away from two defenders on the left and sent a cross which Balotelli headed past Neuer.
Buffon saved against Ozil seven minutes later and Kroos fired wide. Sami Khedira then sent a long shot which Buffon lunged to knock out for a corner.
Italy doubled the lead in the 36th minute as a pass from Montolivo put Balotelli behind the German defense, allowing him to blast a shot into the top right corner.
Germany manager Joachim Loew changed his attack to start the second half, bringing on Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus in place of Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski.
Reus had a chance after two minutes, which Buffon easily gathered in, and Lahm fired an effort over goal.
Balotelli shot past the far post in the 60th minute and Buffon leaped to knock a free kick from Reus over the bar for a corner. Claudio Marchisio then shot wide after taking a pass between defenders from Alessandro Diamanti, who came on for Cassano earlier in the half.
Balotelli was replaced in the 70th minute by Antonio Di Natale, while Germany made its final substitution moments later with Thomas Mueller in for Boateng.
Marchisio once again shot wide after working himself free in the area, while Hummels headed a corner kick over goal and Kroos shot high down the other end.
Di Natale was set free behind the defense with eight minutes left as Germany pushed forward, but hit the side of the net. Buffon stopped a deflected shot from Hummels in the 90th minute and Ozil shot wide off the resulting corner.
Germany finally scored in the second of four added minutes as Ozil converted from the penalty spot after a handball against Federico Balzaretti.
Spain advanced to the final by beating Portugal 4-2 in a penalty shootout two nights ago in Donetsk, Ukraine. The match had finished 0-0 after regulation play and 30 minutes of extra time.
Italy and Spain tied 1-1 when they met on June 10 in the opening match of Group C, with both teams remaining unbeaten through the tournament.
“We showed we’re on Spain’s level and that’s where we started this run,” Marchisio told reporters. “It’s no longer a question of fear. Now we’ve got to pull out everything we still have inside ourselves.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Bensch in London at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at firstname.lastname@example.org.