By Justin McCahren
Enigmatic. Problematic. Eccentric. Immensely talented. Mario Balotelli is all of those things. Today in Warsaw, Poland, Balotelli showed the talent that makes the 21 year old Italian one of the world’s best footballers. When his game is switched on, it’s absolutely electric. To see it on the large stage of Euro 2012 proves that Mario can indeed realize his limitless potential.
Any 21 year old in the public eye has the disadvantage of having to go through growing pains while under constant scrutiny. The only way to combat the scrutiny is to stay low key and stay off the tabloid pages. Thus far, Balotelli has been the antithesis of low key. From the mohawk that accents his attitude to his unpredictablity on and off the pitch, Mario is always headline news. Today, the headlines are for all the right reasons.
In their semifinal matchup against favored Germany, Balotelli and Italy dominated. In the 20th minute Antonio Cassano sent a cross on a string straight to the head of Balotelli. Mario obliged by burying the beautiful pass into the German net. Germany looked shellshocked for the rest of the first half. Proof of that came just sixteen minutes later when the German defense broke down. Riccardo Montolivo sent a deep pass through for Balotelli who timed his run perfectly. Looking more like a wide receiver hauling in a deep pass from his quarterback, Balotelli collected the pass and blasted home his second goal. His sidewinding laser beam that shredded the back of the net. In true Mario form, he celebrated professional wrestler style by ripping off his shirt and striking a pose.
Naturally, the World Wrestling Federation manuever earned him a yellow card. So, as Italy rolled into halftime with a 2-0 lead behind his two superb goals, the fact that he was just one yellow away from missing a possible final against Spain was talked about as much as the two goals. That’s just a day in the life of Mario Balotelli. Even in the midst of a brilliant performance, there were undertones of impending doom. In the 69th minute, Balotelli began to suffer from leg cramps. Thus, his day was over and the fear of a second yellow card was over. The substitution ensured that todays headlines would be all about his breakthrough. Super Mario has arrived.
Mesut Ozil would convert a penalty for Germany in the 90th minute, but it wasn’t enough. Italy completed yet another win over Germany in a major tournament. In the process the Azzurri boosted their record to 5-0-3 against Germany in Euro or World Cup competitions. The 2-1 victory sends Italy to a matchup with Spain in the Euro 2012 Final. In addition to Mario Balotelli’s brilliance, the Italian defense and goaltender Gigi Buffon met the challenge of a normally explosive German side. The Azzurri will need similar effort and moments of brilliance if they hope to defeat the defending Euro and World Cup Champions. Spain will no doubt be favored, but if Italy rides this wave of Balotelli electricity, they could be hoisting their first European Championship since 1968.