WARSAW, Poland — Mario Balotelli flexed his muscles in more ways than one.
The 21-year-old striker quieted his of critics by leading Italy to an unexpected spot in the European Championship final, scoring twice in the first half in a 2-1 victory over Germany on Thursday.
After his second goal, Balotelli stripped off his jersey and flexed his muscles – even if that meant an automatic yellow card.
“This is the greatest night of my life, but I hope Sunday is going to be even better,” Balotelli said, looking ahead to the final against defending champion Spain. “In the opening matches I had a lot of chances, and I wasn’t able to finish them. But In football you also need luck.”
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In the 20th minute, Balotelli had no trouble getting past Holger Badstuber to head in a pinpoint cross from Antonio Cassano. Then in the 36th, Balotelli received the ball behind the defense and blasted a long shot into the top right corner.
With three goals, Balotelli is tied for the tournament lead. After the match, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli was asked if this was the best match of Balotelli’s career.
“Balotelli’s career has just started,” Prandelli said.
Germany’s winless streak against Italy in major tournaments reached eight matches. The Germans failed to generate offense for much of the match, although Mesut Oezil scored a consolation penalty in injury time after Federico Balzaretti was whistled for a handball.
Germany entered the match on a record 15-match winning streak in competitive tournaments.
“It’s a very bitter defeat,” Germany captain Philipp Lahm said. “We tried everything in the second half, but our goal came too late. We have so much potential in our team but if we cannot give the right performance at the right time or are not clever enough, then we lose such a game.”
The final in Kiev, Ukraine, will be a rematch of the Azzurri’s 1-1 draw against Spain that opened Group C.
“We showed we’re on Spain’s level, and that’s where we started this run,” Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio said. “It’s no longer a question of fear. Now we’ve got to pull out everything we still have inside ourselves.”