It was the night Mario Balotelli announced himself as a serious, grown-up footballer, capable of shaping the bigger occasions. There have been plenty of times he has threatened it before but he has never shown so much efficiency and clinical, sometimes devastating, centre-forward play, or the unmistakable sense that he is unwilling to jeopardise all that raw ability with something far less endearing.The outcome is that Italy will meet Spain at the Olympic Stadium, Kiev, on Sunday whereas Germany are denied a 14th appearance in the final of a major tournament and will be able to testify, in great detail, what a formidable opponent Balotelli is when his mind is clear and his only motivation is to demonstrate those qualities of penetration, directness and powerful finishing.
His first-half goals gave Italy a lead that they cherished until Federico Balzaretti's handball conceded a stoppage-time penalty and, briefly, there was a late, desperate onslaught from a Germany side whose goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, spent the last few minutes playing primarily as an auxiliary attacker.
Mesut Ozil put the ball past Gianluigi Buffon from the spot but the late drama did not transcend into anything more substantial.
Italy had withstood some concerted second-half pressure but they also had enough chances on the break to have made it a more convincing victory. On this evidence, Cesare Prandelli's team should represent difficult opponents for Spain, with Andrea Pirlo in imperious form again and Balotelli devastatingly effective before his substitution, with cramp, after 70 minutes. "Tonight was the most beautiful of my life, but I hope that this Sunday is even better," Balotelli said. With Balotelli it is never easy to be sure of what happens next but if he approaches the final in the same state of mind,he could represent Italy’s best chance of ending Spain’s hegemony and winning this tournament for the first time since 1968.Crowning moment
His second goal, in particular, was a moment of individual brilliance and a reminder why Prandelli, in keeping with Roberto Mancini at Manchester City, believes Balotelli is worth the hassles and controversies and unpredictability that form part of the package. There was still plenty for Balotelli to do after Riccardo Montolivo's long, diagonal ball had dissected the German defence but the manner in which he found the net demonstrated someone bristling with confidence. The shot was still rising as it went into the top left-hand corner of Neuer's goal, but it was the swing of the ball to take it away from the goalkeeper that was really striking. That, combined with ferocious power, made it a spectacular goal.