Balotelli sends Italy to Euro finals
In 1985, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros., one of the most enduringly popular video games of its time. That game starred Mario, a likeable plumber who always played the hero.
Nearly 27 years later, another Super Mario–Balotelli, that is–burnished his own legacy in Warsaw, scoring two goals to lead his Italy squad to a 2-1 win over Germany in the Euro semifinals.
It was a brilliant performance for the mercurial Italian striker. He struck first in the 20th minute, when playmaker Antonio Cassano calmly executed a high-quality turn to temporarily shake his marker and cross the ball across the goalmouth, where Balotelli was there to outleap Holger Badstuber and re-direct the ball straight past a helpless Michael Neuer, who had been moving the other way and could not turn in time.
It was an excellent goal, to be sure, but it took Balotelli little more than a quarter hour to outdo himself. Keeper Gianluigi Buffon started the play by punching a corner kick out of danger to the feet of Riccardo Montolivo, who sent a long cross to an onside Balotelli, who managed to split his two markers and earn a partial breakaway. After settling the ball and taking one confident touch with his left foot, Balotelli wound up and blasted the slightly skipping ball into the roof of the net, once again leaving Neuer with little to do but gape.
Balotelli celebrated in his inimitable style, as the striker removed his shirt, flexed his muscles, and stood still as a statue until his teammates came to congratulate him, a performance reminiscent of his undershirt-baring antics against Manchester United earlier in the season. Balotelli earned a yellow card on both occasions.
After the game, however, the famously self-centered Balotelli had a more sentimental take.
“At the end of the game when I went to my mother,” Balotelli said following the match, “that was the best moment. I told her these goals were for her.”
Mesut Özil scored for the Germans, converting a penalty that Buffon nearly saved in the second minute of injury time. But Germany could not equalize, and were left to mourn their second major semifinal defeat at the hands of the Azzurri in six years. While the defeat was a crushing one, team manager Joachim Low did his best to look on the bright side.
“We’ve had two great years,” said Low. “The team has really developed well. We won 15 games in a row but lost today against an incredibly strong Italian side, with a strong axis and two great strikers….Even though there’s disappointment, we played a wonderful tournament and I am sure we will be able to cope with this defeat.”
Italy will face Spain in the final on Sunday. The two teams drew 1-1 earlier in the tournament.