It was the celebration, more so than the goal itself, which truly made this occasion stand out for Mario Balotelli. At a time when social media was truly beginning to grow, the controversial figure added to his earlier goal with a thunderous strike beyond the reach of Manuel Neuer to spark Italian scenes of joy.
Rather than joining in with his teammates who preceded to celebrate around him, Balotelli opted to whip off his sweat-stained top, flex his muscles somewhat and provide meme-fans around the world with an iconic image. It said a lot about the character and mindset of the then-Manchester City striker, but it also provided those watching on with a glimpse of exactly what he was capable of.
Up until that point, and even since that point in fact, Balotelli has entertained and frustrated in equal measure. Perhaps the debate edges more towards the latter aspect in recent times, particularly if his barren season at Liverpool last time out is anything to go by. Yet for one half of football in this semi-final affair, the 33-time capped forward was certainly on top of his game.
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Germany had become many peoples' favourites to go on and win the competition following three wins from three in the group stage and a dominant display to overcome Greece in the first knockout round. Italy had faltered somewhat, meanwhile, winning one of their three group games - albeit one of those being against eventual winners Spain - before eventually battling past England on penalties on the back of a goalless draw.
Gli Azzurri held a firm stranglehold on their opponents, though, going seven competitive encounters unbeaten up until this Warsaw clash, including three-successive wins at the Euros themselves. The one big disadvantage going against Italy was that the Germans were given a further 48 hours' rest prior to the match, while they had to work on adrenaline alone following that extra-time tussle against England.
Things did not go to plan, then, when after 20 minutes of play, Balotelli lost marker Holger Badstuber to head Antonio Cassano's left-sided cross past Neuer. If that goal was about good link-up play, then the second soon after was simply to do with the maverick forward's individual brilliance.
A simple through-ball by Ricardo Montolivo caught a slack German defence completely by surprise, allowing Balotelli to burst his way in on goal. The first touch with his left boot left him a little short, but the second touch - this time with his right - was beyond a helpless Neuer within the blink of an eye.
Then came the celebration. French referee Stephane Lannoy was left with little choice but to show the former AC Milan and Inter Milan man a yellow, which did little to tarnish his mood for the remainder. There was to be no hat-trick before he was replaced with a quarter of the game still to play, but more importantly Italy were able to hold out for the entire second half to book their place in the final. A German response of sorts did come, yet they only had Mesut Ozil's late penalty to show for their bombardment.
The 2006 World Cup holders failed to trouble a dominant Spanish side in the final, however, falling to a resounding 4-0 defeat at Kiev's Olympic Stadium to end what had otherwise been a memorable campaign on a sour note. Balotelli, like his country, has ultimately struggled to shine on the biggest stage since, bar the odd noticeable performance.
So as speculation linking the Italian striker with a move away from Merseyside this summer continues to intensify, many Liverpool supporters will look back at nights like this one, on this day three years ago, and wonder just why the Balotelli has so often failed to match the hype.
GERMANY XI: Neuer, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Boateng (Muller-71), Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Ozil, Kroos, Podolski (Reus-46), Gomez (Klose-46)
ITALY XI: Buffon, Chiellini, Balzaretti, Barzagli, Bonucci, Marchisio, De Rossi, Montolivo (Motta-63), Pirlo, Balotelli (Di Natale-69), Cassano (Diamanti-58)body check tags ::