Italy have pulled off an upset to book their ticket to the Euro 2012 Final, where they'll get another shot at group-mates Spain. Mario Balotelli was the star for the azzurri on Thursday, scoring both of their goals in their 2-1 semifinal victory over Germany.
Joachim Löw put out a surprising lineup, and his changes didn't pay off. Both of Marco Reus and Thomas Müller were kept on the bench in favor of Toni Kroos, as Germany pushed Mesut Özil out wide and looked to match Italy in the center of midfield. They looked like the better team in the opening minutes of the match, but the match was turned on its head by Balotelli and Antonio Cassano in the 20th minute.
Cassano provided a fantastic assist on the opener, turning Mats Hummels around on the left flank before delivering a great cross into the center of the box. Balotelli beat Holger Badstuber to the ball and headed past Manuel Neuer at the near post, putting his team up 1-0.
The following 16 minutes were fairly even, but Germany played aggressively in search of an equalizer. Their aggression and lack of defensive organization bit them in the 36th minute, when their back line was undone by a great Balotelli run and an even better pass by Riccardo Montolivo. Hummels and Philipp Lahm were caught out by Balotelli, who timed his run perfectly to stay onside and leave them in the dust as he ran onto Montolivo's long ball. He held them off and hit a thunderbolt past Neuer at his near post, doubling Italy's lead.
Knowing that his team needed a significant shot in the arm, Löw made two halftime substitutions, bringing on Reus and Miroslav Klose for Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez. Reus played very well in the second half and created a shot on target in the 48th minute, leaving many to wonder why he didn't start the match.
Germany created a number of good half-chances in the second half, but the Italian back line and Gianluigi Buffon were always perfectly positioned. Lahm missed a good chance in the 49th minute, which he should have done better with. In the 55th minute, Özil created a great chance with a ball cut back across the box, leading to a scramble, but Italy eventually cleared.
Cesare Prandelli made three very similar subs in the second half, taking off tired or creative players for rested, energetic, industrious players. Alessandro Diamanti, Thiago Motta and Antonio DI Natale all entered the game in the second half, replacing Cassano, Balotelli and Thiago Motta. The substitutes all did their jobs well, making life hard for Germany.
Italy had three excellent chances to put the game away that they didn't take, something that they would eventually come to regret even though they were able to hold on for the victory. Claudio Marchisio missed two great chances just wide, in the 67th minute and in the 75th minute. In the 82nd minute, Di Natale went one-on-one with Neuer on a breakaway, but hit his shot into the side netting.
Things got interesting in the first minute of stoppage time, when Germany were given a lifeline. Federico Balzaretti was whistled for a handball in the penalty area, and Özil converted the resulting spot kick to make it 2-1. Germany spent the next three minutes throwing everyone forward in a desperate attempt to force extra time, but they never created another clear chance as the azzurri held on for a stunning win.
We have live coverage of the match in our Germany vs. Italy, Euro 2012 Semifinals StoryStream. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.