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Euro 2012: Italy Edges Through to Set Up Final with Spain

It’s the unpredictability that makes football attractive; even though at last the better team won. It was a well-anticipate tactical battle between the two sides. After 90 minutes of excitement, we have indeed enjoyed a good one.

With two days and thirty minutes less recovery time, Prandelli did not restore Motta back in the lineup but stuck with the diamond four that crushed England in the Quarter Finals. The return of Chiellini was timely against a free-flowing Germany side.

Joachim Low dropped Thomas Muller for Toni Kroos, as he knew they needed more possession and flair to penetrate the solid Italian defence. There were debates over starting Mario Gomez or Miroslav Klose. Unarguably, the former was chosen for his physical presence.

Before one’s tactical excellence was being appreciated, Italy nearly destroyed herself. The first 20 minutes was sloppy, sluggish and clumsy. Andrea Pirlo saved Buffon with his error in judgement in a German corner; Barzagli’s rebound off Buffon’s parry was just two inches away from goal; Bonucci even hit a long pass straight at the back of De Rossi.

If Spain were to beat Italy, the key might lie in the first half of first half. When their nerves have settled, their class and experience still ranks in the first tier among top international teams. Another great diagonal pass from Pirlo and Cassano’s aerobatic turn around the young Hummels brought them the lead. Balotelli capitalized on a cheap error by Germany in defending counter attack from corner clearance to double the lead.

Italy did look like they were favourites, because all they had to do for the rest of the game was defend — their proudest strength in football.

Montolivo was the star in first half. Although failing to fire a shot in an open opportunity, he bridged between midfield and forward in style and gave his team everything after the missed penalty against England. He repaid the faith of Prandelli and shone in the trequartista role.

On the other hand, Podolski was a huge disappointment, whereas Mesut Ozil was squeezed to the right to make way for Toni Kroos. Ozil did indeed look much more lively in the 2nd half back to the playmaker role, while Kroos’ involvement in the game was long shots that were threatening but not rewarding.

A poor Germany midfield led to the substitution of Gomez in half time. The Bayern striker had little supply for 45 minutes, and the Germans needed Klose’s movement to spark off the comeback.

Inserting Reus was the right move to challenge Chiellini’s fitness level. Joined by Boateng and Khedira, Reus made instant impact on the right flank and Germany started to threaten.

Having survived the first 10 mins of the second half, Prandelli removed the exhausted Cassano and Montolivo. The introduction of Thaigo Motta allowed De Rossi to sit even deeper and to relieve Chiellini’s pressure. Thereby, Italy never looked like a side who would concede the game.

Rather than individual brilliance, it was a team effort that brought Italy through. Losing the more adventurous Maggio and Abate helped to stabilise the back four against the talented Germany, but Marchisio and De Rossi were exceptional, particularly in the last 20 minutes. De Rossi dropped back into his own box and Marchisio filled up the right back to allow extra aerial presence in the box.

Balzaretti had a fantastic tournament. He has shown his attacking ability at left back, but he was just as comfortable defending at right back. Crucial clearances, shot-blockings and interceptions were everywhere all night.

Joachim Low was a bit late in getting the team going as the Germans looked apparently different between the two halves, but Prandelli managed to gather the focus of his team when it matters. When a manager can ask Balotelli to help in defence and go at half chances, you know there is something special with him. Italy showed that they can also look fluent and danger in their possession game, but a quicker start and better finishing will be needed to stop Spain from achieving a record-breaking hat-trick of international tournament victories.

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