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Glorious Balotelli silences critics

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Associated Press

Italy's Mario Balotelli (centre, shirtless) embraces his team mates after scoring a second goal during the Euro 2012 semifinal against Germany in Warsaw, Poland. Balotelli took off his team jersey and flexed his muscles during his "dance of joy" after scoring the goal.

Warsaw - Italy forward Mario Balotelli scored two superb first-half goals to steer his team to a 2-1 victory over favourites Germany on Thursday and into the Euro 2012 final where they will meet holders Spain.

The Italy forward struck twice in 16 minutes to silence critics with a glorious performance that snapped Germany's 15-match winning streak in competitive games and set up an unexpected final with the world and European champions with whom they drew 1-1 in the group stage of the tournament.

Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil converted a penalty in added time after Federico Balzaretti had handled in the area but Italy held on for the victory. The Germans are now without a win against the Italians in all eight of their tournament meetings since their first half a century ago.

Germany had almost fallen behind in the opening minutes when a Sami Khedira back header found Antonio Cassano who slipped it through for Balotelli but he was caught by keeper Manuel Neuer.

Cassano, whose career was in serious doubt after heart surgery late last year, was back to his creative best, slicing open a Germany defence with pinpoint passes while also causing constant problems for Germany right back Jerome Boateng.

Andrea Pirlo rescued the Italians in the fifth minute when Mats Hummels met a Bastian Schweinsteiger corner only to see his effort cleared by the Italy playmaker almost on the line.

The Italians, as their coach Cesare Prandelli had assured, did not give up their offensive game in favour of a more conservative approach and kept going forward.

They forced two good saves from Neuer before Balotelli struck in the 20th minute. Cassano swirled past Boateng and Hummels to glide over a smooth left-footed cross and the 21-year-old Italy striker drilled in a header top open the scoring.

Balotelli, long criticised for not realising his full potential and for his off-the-pitch antics, stepped up again in the 36th when the German defence was caught napping by a deep Riccardo Montolivo cross and the forward thundered in an unstoppable shot after a deft first touch.

Germany coach Joachim Loew decided to add some pace to his team with Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus coming on at the start of the second half and they quickly took control of the game.

Fired on by constant chanting from the more than 15 000 Germany fans in the National Stadium they poured forward and came close when Buffon, at full stretch, tipped a Reus free kick onto the bar.

With time running out, however, the Germans grew impatient and mistakes started to add up as Italy lurked on the break with Claudio Marchisio twice seeing his efforts sail narrowly wide and substitute Antonio Di Natale also wasting a good chance.

With time running out Germany pushed players forward and put the Italian defence under more and more pressure with their efforts finally paying off as Balzaretti clumsily handled in the box but Ozil's goal from the spot came too late. - Reuters


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