| KRAKOW, Poland, June 29
KRAKOW, Poland, June 29 The idea of Italy
reaching Sunday's Euro 2012 final in Kiev would have been
laughed at in the piazzas and pizzerias of Rome and Milan a
month ago but now Cesare Prandelli's side are there against all
Thursday's 2-1 semi-final win over Germany stunned not just
Joachim Loew's side but the Italian nation itself.
A 3-0 friendly defeat by Russia and yet another match-fixing
affair which robbed the Azzurri of left back Domenico Criscito
just before the tournament were not ideal preparations for a
side who never expected to challenge for the title anyway.
However, Italians often thrive in adversity as seen in 1982
and 2006 when they won the World Cup, and beat Germany along the
way, following domestic betting and cheating scandals.
They have now gone through a difficult group, which included
final opponents and holders Spain, played England off the park
before winning the quarter-final on penalties and beaten in-form
and free-scoring Germany with a clinical yet flamboyant display.
"We are living the dream with millions of Italians," said
defender Giorgio Chiellini after Mario Balotelli's double
extended Germany's record of never beating Italy in a major
"We will enjoy this victory a little then our thoughts turn
to Sunday and we want to continue this dream."
Having matched Spain for long spells in their 1-1 Group C
opener, the Azzurri will not be afraid of the world champions
while Balotelli finding the net in such emphatic style will also
give Italy fans confidence.
Apart from a superb volleyed goal against Ireland, Balotelli
had missed an array of chances with critics wondering whether
all the hype surrounding his wacky persona had covered up his
failings as a footballer.
Germany now know all too well that on his day he can be a
top performer, even if his opening header had much to do with
Antonio Cassano's deft trickery and cross.
Prankster Cassano has had a tough year after recovering from
heart surgery and still cannot complete a match, but he is
Prandelli's joker in both senses of the word and that one bit of
skill made all the difference.
Balotelli, in a ridiculous amount of space, then blasted in
a second goal before the break with a swing of the boot that
could easily have gone wide on another day.
This was Balotelli's match, however, as he gave the perfect
riposte to opposition fans who have racially abused him at this
tournament and the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper which printed
an ill-advised cartoon of him depicted as King Kong.
"This was the best night of my life," Balotelli said. "But I
hope Sunday will be better. I hope to score four goals not two."
(Editing by Ken Ferris)