Prior to the start of European Championship 2012, studies aplenty were undertaken. One of Germanic description cast at seventy-five percent the degree of fan win expectancy. Besieged, as in 1982 and 2006, by match-fixing scandal, the Italian populace nonetheless rated the chances of a further major triumph at a modest fifty-five percent. On this night, those prognostications, those ruthless and bold predictions were set ablaze into the spectre of dysfunctional history; and, in the shadows of such deconstruction, the former figure looks grossly arrogant, the latter more than a hint pessimistic. For Italy, regardless of opposition, play to their strengths. Germany, on the other hand, play to their name.
The subject of Mario Balotelli has induced inumerable similar surveys and questionnaires, projects and studies, focused upon the end target of deducing once and for all what he actually is. Source of permanent conjecture and argument is his style, his personality, his apparent talent. In the Warsaw Stadium, on the biggest of semi-final stages, however, Mario produced his greatest ever performance, casting aside, for one night at least, any modicum of controversy, any hint of skepticism, any doubt of potential. Quite simply, he was awesome.
Bereft of ideas in an attacking sense, Joachim Low's German outfit were anachronistically poor. Whilst the irresistible Pirlo dictated with breathtaking ease the flow and artistry of the game, and whilst Gianluigi Buffon stamped with monolithic desire his identity upon the game, it was Mario, Super Mario who proved the difference maker in an enthralling semi-final. Such an exceptional performance has been anything but from Balotelli out in Poland & Ukraine, it has, quite magnificently, become the norm.
Concentrated on football like never before against Spain in Italy's first Euro game, Mario sparkled. His was a shocking performance in that it was devoid of the usual hallmark Balotelli signs. Rather, it was a production born of effort and desire, as well as undoubted quality, that spawned from the enigma. In spite of criticism for a dilly-dallying upon an opportunity rare of nature, Balotelli's tournament was off to a tremendous start, as, with a 1-1 draw, was Italy's.
Next came the challenge of Croatia. In Poznan, the recipient of vile racist abuse was Mario. Seemingly unperturbed was the talismanic forward, posting once more an impressive performance of energy and focus, strange maturity and unseen, challenged determination. People began to talk; this was a different Mario Balotelli. This was the Mario Balotelli the whole of football has been waiting for.
He too would have to wait. Sat upon the bench from the start of the game against the Republic of Ireland as Italy sought qualification, Balotelli hawked his opportunity. Once it arrived in form of a second half tactical change, Mario capitalised with clinical assurance, volleying home with sniper-like reflexes a goal of sensational quality and power. Conversation begat expectancy, and, as never before, Mario Balotelli began to actually produce.
Thus, the fact that Balotelli should usurp Germany with a masterclass out East came not as surprise but as accumulative fulfillment of prophecy. So frequently demonised as aggressive and headstrong, Mario was both in abundance when out-leaping Holger Badstuber to power home an Italian opener, thus shocking anew a footballing continent.
Thriving not on controversy as is his custom, Balotelli then produced simply his greatest performance yet, demonstrating why Cesare Prandelli and Roberto Mancini both are wont to invest in such an apparently-troubled soul. There was a hunger and desire rarely associated with Mario Balotelli. There was a real energy and vibrancy too, as well as exquisite touch and tremendous strength. Ultimately, this lauded and loved German defence could not handle this fired-up Mario.
When the talisman raced clear after poignant movement to blaze Italy into a fine and commanding two-nil lead with amazing confidence and control, a continent could at last perhaps begin to see revealed a true footballer. At that moment, Mario Balotelli was not some whacky avatar for craziness. At that moment, Mario Balotelli was not centre of a swirling conflict or scandal. At that moment, Mario Balotelli was astounding.
Just as Italy have come unexpectedly from the back of the grid into a position of potential glory, so too has their leading centre forward. Whilst nation hampered by scandal and gambling problems, and striker cursed by misleading impersonations of self, both have, in the humid air of Poland & Ukraine, flourished. Perhaps now, Italy can go on to shock Spain in the Final. Perhaps now, people will respect Italian football again. Perhaps now, under the harnessing and tutelage of Mancini and Prandelli, we may glimpse the real Mario Balotelli.