Top five Italian moments at Euro 2012

Italy's Mario Balotelli (L) celebrates with Antonio Cassano his second goal against Germany during...

Italy's Mario Balotelli (L) celebrates with Antonio Cassano his second goal against Germany during their Euro 2012 semifinal soccer match at National Stadium in Warsaw, June 28, 2012. (REUTERS)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:49 PM ET

DONETSK, UKRAINE - Five magical Italian moments from Euro 2012.

1. Mario's Missle

Let's be honest. With the Italians up early by a 1-0 score over the Germans in the semifinal Thursday, did anyone really think that margin would be safe against the offensive-minded favourites?

Not really.

Enter Mario Balotelli, who, with one goal to his name after just 20 minutes, got behind befuddled German defender Philipp Lahm and unleashed a rocket to the top corner that must have left goalie Manuel Neuer with vapour burns as it whizzed by,

We could have done without Balotelli's upper-body strip tease celebration. But, given the Germans would score on a late penalty to narrow the gap to 2-1, Mario's Missle proved to be the decisive moment that has led Italy into the final.

2. Buffon The Handy Man

Having been knocked out of the World Cup in South Africa early in the competition two years ago due to injury, Italian goalie Gianluigi Buffon was looking to make amends at Euro 2012.

He's done that. And then some.

In fact, if his stop on England's Glen Johnson early in the quarterfinal match was not the top save in the tournament, it has to rank among the best two or three.

He didn't dive. He didn't do the splits. There was no time for those things. Instead, he instinctively stuck out his right hand and somehow palmed the ball back into play.

What's more impressive? A) That the ball stayed out? Or B) That he didn't snap any bones in his fingers while making the save.

We'll go with C) All of the above.

3. Pirlo Saves The Day

With the Germans pressing in the early going, 33-year-old Andreas Pirlo potentially saved the day for the Italians.

Pirlo was cemented on the goal line when Germany's Mats Hummels directed a promising header that beat Buffon and seemed destined for the back of the net. Fortunately, thanks to Pirlo's positioning, the ball plunked him in the chest and stayed out.

Had the pressing Germans scored on that particular play, it could have been an entirely different game for the Azzurri, who would have spent the entire evening trying to catch up. Instead, it kept the match on equal terms.

Pirlo's goal-line dramatics kept the score knotted at 0-0 and allowed Mario Balotelli to steal the show with a pair of subsequent goals. For that play alone, he certainly deserved to be one of the game's three stars, to use a hockey concept, along with Balotelli and Buffon.

4. Inflicting Pain On Spain

Carrying a lot of swagger into the tournament, the Spanish marched into Euro 2012 having won 14 consecutive competitive matches.

The Italians, however, were not intimidated by those numbers. Not in the least.

And when substitute Antonio Di Natale opened the scoring in the 60th minute of their Group C opener, the defending champs were put on notice that the Italians were not going to be intimidated.

A Cesc Fabregas equalizer later in the second half meant the game would end 1-1 but even that shouldn't have dampened Italian spirits. After all, along with shutting down Spain's win streak, Di Natale and the Italians served notice to the Spanish that they could play them even over 90-plus minutes.

On Sunday, they'll have a chance to do it again.

5. "Spoon" Helps Put Fork Into England

England had taken a 2-1 lead in penalties during the quarterfinal in Kiev when Pirlo pulled out the "spoon" to help put the fork into the Three Lions.

Call it cheeky. But it worked.

The Italian word for scooping the ball over a prone goalkeeper is "il cucchiaio" -- the spoon. And that's exactly the technique Pirlo used to beat English goalie Joe Hart.

Pirlo's goal tied the penalty shootout at 2-2. And when Ashley Young and Ashley Cole missed subsequent penalties for England, well, that's all she wrote.

Those misses were costly, sure. But it was the "spoon" that helped put the final dagger into England's Euro 2012 aspirations.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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