June 28, 2012
Euro notes: Germany's shocking defending
By KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency
The Beautiful Game is actually a game of mistakes.
And the Italians took full advantage Thursday in Warsaw, capitalizing on a pair of defensive blunders on the way to beating the favoured Germans 2-1 to advance to Sunday's Euro 2012 final against Spain.
While Mario Balotelli took his two chances with astonishing simplicity, both goals were products of unforgivable defending that allowed a less-talented, but certainly better organized, Italian side to jump ahead and never look back.
At the opposite end, the Germans simply weren't as clinical as they've been throughout the tournament, sending multiple chances over the goal and failing to test Gianluigi Buffon when they seemed certain to find a way back into the match.
Plain and simple, this wasn't the German team the world is used to seeing. Until Mesut Ozil scored from the spot, Germany's energy seemed to deteriorate as the match inched closer to full-time.
Whether it was the losers having limited experience in fighting back from behind or the fatigue of playing in a tournament that allows for little rest, the appropriate participant is on to Kiev.
And they won't make it easy for the defending world champions.
MINUTE BY MINUTE
Praised for his composure and calming presence just in front of Italy's back four, Andrea Pirlo's most important contribution Thursday was cleaning up Buffon's mess five minutes in. The 33-year-old (who looks closer to 40 in appearance) saved a corner off the line after Buffon's uncertainty nearly cost Italy just after the start ... Although he recovered nicely to close the match, Buffon nearly cost his side a second time after spilling Toni Kroos' cross on 13 minutes. After what should have been a routine collection for the veteran 'keeper, Buffon pushed the cross off defender Federico Barzagli, who nearly re-directed it into his own goal .. Balotelli will get the credit but the architects of both Italian goals was Germany's shockingly bad defence. In the 20th minute, German defender Mats Hummels over-committed along the left edge of the box, allowing Antonio Cassano to play the cross that Balotelli headed home for Italy's opener ... The centre of Germany's defence went from bad to worse in the 36th minute when what should have been a harmless through ball from Riccardo Montolivo somehow split Hummels and Holger Badstuber, which saw Balotelli in alone on goal. Balotelli's half-volley finish with Philip Lahm in pursuit was the second-best goal of the tournament after Zlatan Ibrahimovic's full-volley against France ... There were two big German chances that could have changed the complexion in the second half -- Lahm sending his close-range attempt over the bar from 10 metres and Marco Reus striking paint on the hour mark. After starting out so poorly, replays showed Buffon laid out to get his fingers to Reus's restart before it pinged off the bar.
Andrea Barzagli's hand ball -- and it was a hand ball -- in stoppage time made for a nervy final five minutes after Germany's Ozil converted from the spot ... A bit odd that with its final kick, Germany elected to play it short instead of hoofing the ball into the box. Had the Germans taken an extra second to gather everyone inside the penalty area, French referee Stephane Lannoy would have granted the Germans a final attempt at goal -- a minor detail that might have gone a long way ... What does it mean when your 'keeper wins more critical battles than your defence at the end of a match? Manuel Neuer won three critical headers to close out the game that gave the Germans multiple chances at the death.
THIS AND THAT
The look on German supporters' faces was as priceless as Balotelli's deranged demeanour after the mohawked striker doubled the Azzurri's advantage before the break. After roofing his half-volley from 18-metres past a helpless Neuer, Balotelli did an Eric Cantona-like celebration, staring at the crowd with his jersey off while flexing every muscle in his body ... After receiving a mandatory booking for his half-nakedness, was anyone else hoping to see the Manchester City attacker sent off in the second half? It would have been a fitting end for one of the world's most polarizing players following a clinical performance ... It's not as though defence wasn't a concern coming into the tournament. The Germans fell to France earlier in the year before losing to Switzerland 5-3 in a pre-tournament tune-up ... Leave it up to the Italians to spoil an otherwise flawless opening half with a bit of flopping and foolishness. Cassano's attempt to get German central defender Badstuber sent off just before halftime was a shame. Badstuber's well-timed tackle beat Cassano, who jumped out of the tackle before grabbing at his ankles "¦ It's not the dream matchup everyone expected, but it's one this reporter predicted in Thursday's Suns. The only pundit to predict a 2-1 win for the Italians, it was obvious organization would win the day in Warsaw. Toot toot.