It was this particular game that changed the perception that it was just luck that got Italy to the semi-final of the Euros.
At the onset of the 2012 Euro Cup, Italy was considered a spent force. Sure, they had won the World Cup a little more than half a decade ago, but ever since then, the nation had not been able to perform at the high standards they set for themselves over the years. Two years prior, the Azzurri were dumped out of the FIFA World Cup at the group stage as defending champions. The heartbreak of that tournament has plagued Italian fans and few expected much of the side in Euros with some expecting them to crash out of the group stages yet again.
Possibly nobody could have foreseen what followed. Not only did the Italians make it out of their group comfortably, but they also managed to reach the finals to play against then-world champions, Spain. The Azzurri did lose the final, that too by a hefty margin, but it was a tournament that their fans were proud of. To make it to the finals of a competition like the Euros after suffering a heartbreaking exit from the initial stages of the World Cup, showed just how much character the Azzurri had in them as a unit.
One match where that character was specifically on display was the semi-final clash against Germany. Going into the match, nobody gave Italy a chance. The Germans, at the time, were a rising force. They would eventually go on to become world champions but at the time, that champion squad was under construction.
The German side was a perfect blend of youth and experience, comprising of players like Lahm, Neuer, Podolski, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Klose, and many others. It had already taken the shape of a side capable of being world champions. Everyone was expectant of a Spain-Germany final, and rightfully so. Italy did not have a well-balanced squad at the time. It was a shock that the Azzurri even made it this far into the tournament. Many had even called it nothing but luck.
It was this particular game that changed the perception that it was just luck that got Italy to the semi-final of the Euros. While Germany had a world champion calibre squad, Italy had tons of experience on their side. The likes of Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci, Barzagli, Prilo, De Rossi, Cassano, and several others had been part of the squad for several years. Some had even played in the 2006 World Cup. The difference between the two sides was that while Germany had a good team, they were new, and it had not been long since they have been playing together. With Italy, most of the players have been teammates for several years. So, the team chemistry of the Italians was much higher.
There was also one other difference between the two sides. The Azzurri boasted of a young striker who had burst into the scene and was already making himself known in the English Premier League. The Azzurri had Mario Balotelli. The Manchester City striker proved to be the difference between the two teams on the scoresheet at the end of the day.
A long Andrea Pirlo pass found Giorgio Chiellini who had ventured down the left-hand side of the pitch. He passed it to Cassano who was nearby. Cassano was being closed down by two German defenders, especially by Mats Hummels. The nifty attacker managed to turn Hummels and deliver a delightful cross into the box. Balotelli outjumped his marker and headed the ball comfortably past Manuel Neuer to make it 1-0 to the Italians.
The next goal he scored is probably one of the best goals of his career. The Germans had been on the attack ever since Italy took the lead. What comes with excessive attacking is a heavy risk of a counterattack. That is exactly what hurt the Germans.
Ricardo Montolivo picked up a loose ball in his half and struck a delightful over-the-top pass from inside his own half to an open Mario Balotelli. The striker’s movement and the ball’s trajectory managed to get the better of Lahm. As Balotelli was closing in on goal, Lahm had almost caught up to him. Sensing that he did not have much time, the Manchester City striker let fly from outside the penalty box and the ball flew past Neuer and nestled in the top corner. It was deemed one of the goals of the tournament.
For the rest of the game, the Italians defended with all their might. The Germans threw attack after attack and even managed to score once, but if there is anything the Italians can do better than anyone, it is an absolute defence. The world got to witness the famed, feared and frustrating Italian defence that night, as the likes of Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini and De Rossi brought their A-game to the fray and denied the Germans an equaliser.
Despite a hefty 4-0 loss in the final against Spain, the victory against Germany seemed to do wonders for the Azzurri’s morale. It was a statement that they were not going to die down despite a heartbreaking world cup campaign. And with characters like Chiellini and Bonucci in the side, both of who will be present at Euro 2020, breaking down an absolute Italian defence will be an extremely stern test for any nation.