Mario Balotelli was the two-goal hero on Thursday
as Italy stopped high-flying Germany 2-1 in the Euro 2012 semi-finals
to earn another date with holders Spain for the trophy.
The Manchester City forward Balotelli headed the opening goal in the 20th minute and smacked home the second in the 36th for the Azzurri, who remain unbeaten against Germany in competitive games after Germany coach Joachim Loew finally ran out of luck with his tactical schemes and Mesut Oezil's stoppage time penalty was too late.
Italy will play in their third Euro final on Sunday in Kiev, winning in 1968 against Yugoslavia and losing to France in 2000.
Italy and Spain already met in the group stage on June 10 and played to a 1-1 draw. Spain are bidding to became the first team to win three major trophies in a row following Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
Spain beat Germany for the title four years ago and the Germans had hoped to get a chance for revenge, but they were stopped by Italy just as in the past - including the 2006 home World Cup semis.
"It was an amazing match. We did exactly what we planned. We missed our chances for a third goal but it was a perfect match apart from that," said coach Cesare Prandelli. "Balotellis career is only starting now."
Loew surprisingly picked Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos to bolster midfield and contain Andrea Pirlo, with Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski back in the line-up after not starting in the quarter-final against Greece.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli fielded defender Giorgio Chiellini for injured Ignazio Abate. Pirlo made a first impression - on his goal-line when he cleared Mats Hummels' shot off a fifth-minute corner kick.
Seven minutes later goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon fumbled a sharp cross from Jerome Boateng against his defender Andrea Barzagli from whose leg the ball fell just inches past the right post.
But it was Italy who were on top in the 20th in a move set up by Pirlo's long pass to Chiellini. Antonio Cassano got the ball from Chiellini, weaved his way around Hummels at the left edge of the area, and Balotelli out-leaped Holger Badstuber to nod home Cassano's cross for 1-0 from point-blank range.
The goal gave Italy confidence while Germany found it hard to recover, with no right winger as Kroos spent most of the time in the centre of midfield.
Italy who scored again on their second chance. Buffon fisted a corner to Riccardo Montelivo, the midfielder (who has a German mother) split Germany's defence with a deep ball for Balotelli who smashed his third goal of the tournament into the roof of the net as captain Philipp Lahm came too late on the rescue.
Loew made amends for the second half by fielding Marco Reus for Podolski and veteran Miroslav Klose for Gomez, and the Germans threatened instantly in their comeback attempt with much better pace.
The lively Reus had a shot saved by Buffon in the 48th, Lahm curled over the bar less than a minute later from inside the area, and Buffon needed some luck to tip a free-kick from Borussia Dortmund-bound Reus against the bar in the 62nd.
Alessandro Diamanti and Thiago Motta came on for Cassano and Montelivo, and cramping Balotelli then also left for Antonio di Natale.
Loew then also fielded Thomas Mueller for Jerome Boateng but it was to no avail as Italy weathered the storm and even had major chances from Claudio Marchisio and di Natale to score a third before Oezil's consolation goal came from the spot after Federico Balzaretti handled the ball.
Germany lost for the first time after winning a 15 competitive games in a row and will fly home on Friday while Italy can go to Kiev to fight for a second big title in six years following the 2006 World Cup.
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