Straight from the dark heart of Italy
If Thursday night’s street celebrations are anything to go by, overcoming Spain in the final of Euro 2012 would see Italy greet Monday morning in bleary-eyed fashion.
In truth, few expected the party to continue this long, but Croatia, Ireland, England and Germany have all been sent packing, leaving the Azzurrri where they always aim to be a major tournament, with the trophy there for the taking.
Throughout a month in which belief has grown slowly, Cesare Prandelli has had to tailor his starting line-up for every game, responding to injury or the need for some tactical fine retuning.
The semi-final against the much-fancied Germans, who had won 15 consecutive matches, brought a new set of problems for the coach, with right-back Ignazio Abate injured in the win over England and the obvious replacement Christian Maggio suspended.
Rather than return to the back three of the first two fixtures, Federico Balzaretti was switched from left of the back four to the right, with Giorgio Chiellini restored to the left back spot - a position the Juventus man had played most of his career in until recent seasons.
Rather than look unbalanced, the defence had the extra security of having the left-footed Balzaretti able to come in from the flank and make a number of timely clearances on his favoured foot – with one early in the encounter ensuring the score remained goalless just when the Germans were enjoying a period of dominance.
In fact, a Juve-heavy backline also featuring the imperious Gigi Buffon and two pillars of strength in Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci was the launching pad for Italy’s quick and decisive breaks that tore the Germans apart.
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Against England, Italy had dominated possession, but that was never going to happen in Warsaw, against opponents who based their game plan around control of the ball.
Italy also had two fewer days to recover from their 120 minute quarter-final, but Prandelli had promised that his team would remain true to his attacking ideals – and with Andrea Pirlo a serious contender for player of the tournament, there was no reason to fear it would be one-way traffic on Buffon’s goal.
Pirlo was once again an immense presence in the centre of the pitch, flanked by the ever-willing Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio, who had been complaining of tiredness, but both players were non-stop in their willingness not only to cover back but get forward to support the front two.
The defence and midfield had been sound throughout the tournament but now it was the turn of the attack to show what they could do – and how they responded.
Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli, in particular, had been wasteful in previous matches where the statistics had demonstrated that Italy had only take advantage of 12% of their goalscoring chances compared to nearly 30% when it came to the Germans.
Having weathered the early storm which had seen Pirlo clear off the line, the midfield came into their own to set the platform for Cassano to turn the German defence this way and that with a series of mazy runs which culminated on 20 minutes with the precise cross for Balotelli to head home the opener.
It was the moment where the pair finally clicked and from there on Balotelli was leading the line in a manner that Prandelli had been demanding from the moment he put his faith in the Manchester City youngster.
The second goal, following a simple long ball over the top from Riccardo Montolivo, had the mark of everything one expects from a world-class finisher: power, precision and not another thought than seeing the ball fly into the back of the net.
It was moment of sheer beauty that he had to spoil to some extent by removing his shirt thus gaining a yellow card – however, the nation forgave him, with chants of "bellissimo Balo" ringing out as he showed off his impressive pecs.
From there, muscle was needed by the whole team as Germany drove forward but the weight of history also laid heavily on them, having lost four and drawn the same amount against Italy when it really mattered.
The referee may have given Germany some faint hope, with a late penalty awarded when the ball struck Balzaretti’s arm, but it was all in vain – and now Spain await in the final.
The Spanish press had mocked Italy after the draw in the group meeting, with their 'see you in the final' headlines and then the biscotto taunts when the match against Croatia could have led a different outcome in settling qualification to the knock-out.
It may well come back to haunt them as Italy prepares to party like its 2006 all over again.
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