Italy flexes muscles against Germany
Warsaw, Poland (Sports Network) - Italy striker Mario Balotelli ripped off his jersey, flexed his muscles, and waited for teammates to arrive to celebrate.
Less than 36 minutes into the Euro 2012 semifinal against Germany on Thursday, the enigmatic Balotelli scored his second goal on just his second shot to send Italy to the final with a 2-1 win at National Stadium.
Mesut Ozil converted a penalty kick in stoppage time for Germany.
Italy remained unbeaten in eight meetings against Germany in major tournaments and will play Spain on Sunday for the championship. Italy and Spain tied, 1-1, in group play.
Germany had won its last 15 competitive games - an international record. Italy is unbeaten in 15 straight.
Italy survived two scares early, as Andrea Pirlo blocked a shot on the line by Mats Hummels inside 5 minutes and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon spilled a cross in the 12th that deflected off a teammate and wide of the post.
A stinging shot from Toni Kroos, making his first start in the tournament, put Buffon under pressure again in the 13th, but Italy grabbed control of the game minutes later.
Following a long-range shot from Riccardo Montolivo that forced Manuel Neuer to make a diving save, the Italians turned their first good look at goal into the lead.
Antonio Cassano opened space on the left against two defenders and sent a pass into the middle of the area. Balotelli got position on German defender Holger Badstuber and headed into the net from close range in the 20th.
Although Germany quickly settled back in, Ozil was denied at the left post by Buffon and Lukas Podolski was unable to reach a nice cross from Jerome Boateng in the 27th.
Sami Khedira tested Buffon with a volley toward the upper left in the 35th as the Germans were denied again, and Italy hit a quick counter attack to add to its lead.
Montolivo played a ball from the left wing to send Balotelli into space behind the German defense and he took the ball to the top of the area and unleashed a shot into the top-right corner to leave Neuer no chance.
Balotelli, known as much for his off-field antics as his brilliance on the field, followed the memorable celebration.
Germany failed to answer before half, and coach Joachim Loew brought Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus off the bench to start the second half.
Reus and Philipp Lahm both had chances in the first 5 minutes after half, but the Germans finishing touch continued to be absent, and Balotelli almost made it a hat trick when he fired just wide left on the hour mark.
Germany had another chance through Reus in the 62nd, but Buffon directed the ball over the bar, and Italy looked to put the match away on the counter with Claudio Marchisio missing chances in the 67th and 75th.
Kroos had a ball drop to him the top of the area in the 80th but fired wide as Germany continued to waste its chances, and Antonio Di Natale wasted a shot to put the match away when he found the side netting minutes later.
Federico Balzaretti made a nice tackle on Reus to prevent a shot deep in the game, Hummels missed another chance from close range in the 90th as Buffon was able to make a save at the left post, and Ozil fired wide on another chance.
Germany received a lifeline in stoppage time when Balzaretti handled the ball, and Ozil drove the penalty inside the right post past a diving Buffon, but the Italians killed off the match to return to the final for the first time since 2000.