Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrates after scoring the second goal during the Euro 2012 football championships semi-final match against Germany at the National Stadium in Warsaw. AFP/Francisco Leong
A Mario Balotelli brace on Thursday took Italy into the Euro 2012 final to face holders Spain, as the Azzurri maintained their unbeaten record against Germany in major championships.
The 21-year-old Manchester City striker opened the scoring on 20 minutes, and added another in the 36th minute to take his tally to three in the tournament in what was the final match being hosted in Poland.
The final is in Kiev - capital of co-hosts Ukraine - on Sunday.
Balotelli's performance was a suitably memorable final souvenir for the Poles to cherish in a tournament that through their successful co-hosting they won many new friends.
"There's reason to celebrate," said sports minister Joanna Mucha, pointing to high approval ratings for the country from visiting fans.
European and world champions Spain, who beat Portugal 4-2 on penalties on Wednesday, meanwhile revelled in the chance of becoming the first country to win back-to-back European championships.
A record television audience of just over 19 million -- equal to 87.3 percent of total viewers -- watched the tense penalty shoot-out, making it the most-viewed in Spanish broadcasting history.
The country's media exploded with joy, lauding the players with celebratory headlines after Cesc Fabregas' match-winning spot-kick.
Leading daily El Pais gave glowing praise after thousands of fans thronged the streets of the capital, Madrid, calling the team "winners" and hailing their achievements.
"We call them winners. It used to be the name for the Germans, now it is for Spain, this Spain with no limits which has not fallen from heaven in the past four years."
Coach Vicente Del Bosque said victory in Kiev on Sunday could provide a much-needed boost to a recession-hit country, amid a collapsing property market and wider financial uncertainty surrounding the banking sector.
"If we can do it... I believe that it will be beneficial not just for football but for the country in general," said Del Bosque, who replaced Luis Aragones after the Euro 2008 title win and guided them to the 2010 World Cup trophy.
"It will send some signals to the country that we are going in the right direction. And if the success can be transferred into society, that would be marvellous."
Del Bosque also waived away suggestions that fatigue will affect the final, insisting his players will be ready to defend their title.
"At the moment, yes, they are tired. They have played all season to their limits. But at the same time, they are used to the wear and tear of a whole season spent playing at the highest level.
"Thus there is no reason to be excessively worried by this."
Elsewhere, a question mark hung over Laurent Blanc's future as France coach, after the French Football Federation elected to postpone a decision on whether or not to renew his contract.
"Les Bleus" were knocked out by Spain in the quarter-finals but their tournament was marred by dressing room in-fighting and poor relations with the media.
Manuel Neuer Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm (capt) Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger Lukas Podolski, Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos Mario Gomez
Coach: Joachim Loew
Gianluigi Buffon (capt) Federico Balzaretti, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Daniele De Rossi Riccardo Montolivo Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano
Coach: Cesare Prandelli