Mario Balotelli was the star as Italy shocked the much-fancied Germans in an exciting encounter
• Germany v Italy: the semi-final in pictures
Right, we've only got two games to save a football tournament here. Los geht's Deutschland! Forza Italia!
Because, let's be brutally honest with ourselves, Euro 2012 has been a thundering disappointment. Average group stages; awful, predictable knockout games; stifling tactics. Good luck to you, dear ol' reader pal o' mine, if you've gleaned some entertainment out of it, but plenty of us have been less fortunate. Three weeks we've given over to this. And the bleeding from the eyes!
BUT LET US EMBRACE OPTIMISM!!! IT'S NOT TOO LATE!!! If Germany and Italy pull a minor classic out of the bag here - and past meetings suggest there's no reason they won't - and then we get a half-decent final, history might be kind to Euro 2012! Because over-intellectualising Spain's tiki-totalitarianism isn't going to be enough when you try to big this up in ten years' time, I can tell you that for nothing.
So, to those past meetings, and the Germans and the Italians have served up some classic action over the years. None of it has been to the satisfaction of Die Mannschaft, who have never won a competitive fixture against the Azzurri. They've played seven times in World Cups and European Championships, and Italy have four wins and three draws. The Italians even have the edge in friendly competition, winning 14 of 30 games, compared to Germany's seven.
And Italy's big competitive wins have been BIG competitive wins. First up was the famous 4-3 victory in the sweltering semi-final of the 1970 World Cup, Gigi Riva and Gianni Rivera trumping the extra-time heroics of Gerd Muller and a shoulder-knacked Franz Beckenbauer. Then came the 1982 World Cup final, Marco Tardelli and all that. And then came the 2006 World Cup semi-final,
Marco Tardelli Fabio Grosso and all that.
History very much on Italy's side, then. But history was on France's side against Spain at the weekend too, and look what happened there. Recent form strongly favours Joachim Low's superb team: their brand of Das Bundestikiundtaka has won them 15 competitive games on the bounce, breaking a record previously held jointly by Spain, France and Holland. The Italians, meanwhile, might have swaggered around Mr Roy's Special Traffic Cone Set the other day, but they've only won one of their last seven matches in regulation time. And that was against Ireland, who, well, y'know. But with Andrea Pirlo in majestic form - and Germany unlikely to be forgetting that competitive record any time soon - they're in with a chance alright. So there's no reason why this can't be a classic. Please let this be a classic. Please.
Kick off: 7.45pm BST, 8.45pm CEST (local time in Warsaw).
Germany recall Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez and Toni Kroos: Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Kroos, Ozil, Podolski, Gomez.
Subs: Wiese, Gundogan, Schmelzer, Howedes, Schurrle, Klose, Muller, Bender, Mertesacker, Gotze, Reus, Zieler.
Italy recall Giorgio Chiellini, back from a thigh injury: Buffon, Balzaretti, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Pirlo, Marchisio, Montolivo, De Rossi, Balotelli, Cassano.
Subs: Sirigu, Ogbonna, Thiago Motta, Abate, Di Natale, Giaccherini, Borini, Giovinco, Diamanti, Nocerino, De Sanctis.
Referee: Stephane Lannoy (France)
Waiting in the tunnel, the keepers Manuel Neuer and Gianluigi Buffon embrace, while Mario Balotelli and Jerome Boateng crack wise, and then the teams take to the field! Germany are in their classic white-and-black strip, Italy in their paying-no-heed-to-the-flag blue. The players line up, and it's time for the Special Songs. Germany pelt out the Song of Germany, the tune written by an Austrian. Italy had previously entertained themselves with a hearty holler of the Song of the Italians, the writing of which was at least kept in house, but then tunesmith Michele Novaro is no Joseph Haydn, no matter how jaunty this particular number is. "After 20 years of Schumi, the Italian national anthem could just as well be the German one," notes Dirk Pilat. "Or the other way around." Anyway, there's a fine atmosphere in Warsaw. This is ON!
But first the Captain's Messages. Buffon and Phillipp Lahm tell everyone not to be stupid bigoted buggers. Hear hear to that. The teams shake hands. We'll be off in a minute. "When erstwhile Guardian scribe Jonathan Wilson titled his magnificent opus Inverting the Pyramid, I doubt he realised that he was envisaging Euro 2012," begins Phil Sawyer. "A tournament that started in an unexpectedly entertaining swathe of attacking football that has gradually narrowed into a tense, cautious, display of risk free margins. Oh, capricious fate, that not only should we now be looking on the German and Italian teams to raise us from this morass but that they've been playing a brand of football that could genuinely do it. The world has finally gone mad." Erstwhile? Don't tell me he's been turfed out for claiming Spain have entered the pantheon of greatness? Oh Wilson! Say it ain't so!
And we're off! Super Mario gets the ball rolling. After 13 seconds, they've not lost the ball, but have made no effort whatsoever to cross the halfway line. They're the Blue Spain!
31 seconds: Cassano pelts down the left, but checks and eventually loses the ball. So much for the Blue Spain. Oh Italy!
2 min: Not too much to report yet. Germany have had a wee sniff down the Italian left wing, before swinging an aimless ball high across the area. And that's about it. "Well done for having the integrity to call out the Emperor's hairy balls and saggy bottom and not get seduced by the puzzling media talk about 2012's dazzling footballing gown of excellence," writes Jason Isaacs. "It's been dull as dishwater and yet I keep hearing people say how thrilling it's been. Even as someone who doesn't follow any of the Euro teams, there's usually still great football on display but this is just boring. I shudder at the thought of eight more crap teams in four years time."
4 min: Montolivo is this close to finding Balotelli down the inside-right channel with a sliderule pass, but Neuer is out quickly to snaffle. The National Stadium in Warsaw is bouncing. Let's hope it stays this way, for quite a few stadiums have fallen silent during this tournament.
5 min: Germany were so close to taking the lead. The ball's swung in from a left-hand corner, and lands at the feet of Hummels, six yards out, Buffon having flapped. Hummels can't connect properly, though, the ball clanking off his knee, and Pirlo is on Italy's right-hand post to hack clear.
8 min: Another corner for Germany, this time won down the right. No drama from this one. The Germans have settled much better than their opponents. "Nice seeing football players actually run for a change, as opposed to the genteel plodding of England-Italy or Spain-anyone," opines Hubert O'Hearn. "Those games had all the pace of elderly men taking up jogging after a double knee transplant."
11 min: Germany amuse themselves with a bit of Bundestikiundtaka. Eventually Khedira blooters the ball goalwards, harmlessly, from 35 yards. That was like watching Spain and Portugal at the same time.
12 min: Again Italy nearly fall behind, and again it's Buffon at fault. Boateng swings in a low cross from the right. Buffon, on the edge of his six-yard box, parries low, but only straight at Barzagli, the ball clanking off the defender's shins and inches wide of the right-hand post. Dear lord. From the corner, Kroos has a thrash from the inside-right position, Buffon regaining some moral credit by diving at full length to stop that one before it flew into the net. Germany are all over Italy, who look very nervous.
15 min: Bonucci blasts a clearance down the inside-left channel, but only onto the back of Di Rossi. The rebound nearly sets Gomez clear into the Italian half, but the striker is rocking back on his heels and can't take advantage. "This Gomez chappie - he's Serginho reborn isn't he?" wonders Gary Naylor. Shh, Naylor, you'll rattle Bobbie Smyth's cage!
18 min: Italy show upfield properly for the first time, Montolivo dropping a shoulder as he cuts inside from the left, and lashing a low shot towards the bottom left. Neuer is right behind the effort. And then, less than a minute later, Cassano unleashes a superb strike from 20 yards, level with the left-hand post but aiming for the bottom right. Neuer catches the fizzing ball cleanly, which is just as well because Balotelli was buzzing around in the hope of latching onto a rebound.
20 min: BRILLIANT GOAL!!! Germany 0-1 Italy. Could this be the opening salvo in a classic ding-dong battle? Germany have had all the play, but Italy have just had two attempts, and their third counts! Cassano twists and turns magnificently down the left, escaping from Boateng and Khedira with one marvellous twiddle, then whipping a cross over the six-yard area, where Balotelli - having beaten Badstuber to the ball - powers home a header. That was top class. This is on!
23 min: The Germans are rocking here. Italy have three on two down the inside-right channel. Montolivo and Marchisio confuse each other by getting too close, and eventually the latter concedes a free kick by hacking away at the ankles of Schweinsteiger, who turned up late to sort out Germany's mess. "Okay, in my eagerness to wax lyrical I may have been ill thought out in my description of Wilson as erstwhile," admits Phil Sawyer. "I blame the very long validation event I had to try and retain some control over today and the several Sustained Period of Concentration Compensators I was bought afterwards to try and sooth my fevered brow."
25 min: Space for Ozil down the right. He curls a cross onto the head of Gomez, but the big striker's header is weak and wafted miles to the left of the target. "I think I am right (or very close to it) in saying that both teams have already managed more shots on target with menace than the total prior to penalties yesterday," calculates Owen Linderholm. "Draw your own conclusions."
27 min: Gomes holds the ball up with his heed down the inside-left channel. Transferring control from noggin to clogs, he* pings the ball back to Ozil, who sidefoots towards the bottom left. Buffon is behind it all the way. This is a highly entertaining match between two very good technical teams.
30 min: Kroos cuts in from the right and lays off to Podolski, who is so close to finding Gomez on the edge of the D with a first-time ball. Then half a minute later, Kroos - busy boy - comes in from the left and bangs a wild shot high and wide right of goal. Germany are responding well to going behind, without having troubled Buffon yet. "I couldn't hear the game for the first few minutes because I was listening to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and there are things you can't stop halfway," admits Paulo Padilha, "but once the final chords of Spiral Architect faded away I could hear that there's a real atmosphere at the stadium this time. So many matches at this tournament have been played to a dead silence, is it wrong to miss the vuvuzela?"
33 min: Boateng diddles down the right and swings a magnificent cross towards the far post. Podolski is bombing in to convert from close range, but Balzaretti gets there first and bundles out for a corner, from which nothing comes. "It's dawned on me Spain is opera," begins Mark Gardberg. "World-class singers, but in putting all those amazing pipes together, it ends up less entertaining than a three-note high school rock band. Zzzzzz. England, by the way, are the Beatles. Reasonable talent, good within their limitations, hit their peak about 40 to 50 yrs. ago."
34 min: Germany are a state down their right. Italy shuttle the ball down their left, the ball eventually finding the feet of Montolivo, in an inexplicable amount of space in the area. He should have a first-time poke for the far corner, but decides to execute a dragback and is eventually relieved of the ball. What a chance. Or a very good half-chance, anyway.
35 min: This is a brilliant end-to-end match. Khedira has a whack from 30 yards, down the inside right, looking for the top left. Buffon tips round for a corner. What a brilliant effort. And then, from the corner...
36 min: ANOTHER BRILLIANT BALOTELLI GOAL! Germany 0-2 Italy. Italy deal with the corner and stream upfield. Down the left, just inside his own half, Montolivo sprays a diagonal ball down the centre for Balotelli, who is suddenly clear, 40 yards out! He stomps towards the area, and whacks an unstoppable curling blooter past Neuer and into the postage stamp of the top-right corner. That was a stunning finish. He whips his shirt off to show his guns, and is booked, but doesn't seem to care, much as you'd imagine.
39 min: Italy are in their pomp here. This has been a brilliant attacking display. Germany, lest we forget, have never beaten Italy in a big game. They're facing a long journey back here.
41 min: Germany are giving the ball away in midfield quite often. This is most unlike them. Italy probe left and right, but eventually shuttle the ball back, and begin again. Germany can't get anything going now. A strange game, because they've certainly caused Italy problems during this half. But look at that scoreline! "Surely if England were a band they'd be Oasis; living off past glories, loutish attitude and none of the product to match their bravado," writes Edan Tal.
44 min: On the bench, managerial fop Jogi Low looks stunned. But it's a very elegant stunned. He's metrostunned.
45 min: If Germany grab a goal before half time, this looks a different match all of a sudden. They win a corner down the left, but can't beat the first man upon swinging it in. "Has any player ever been sent off for two shirt removal offences and what odds could we get on Mario being the first if he gets his hat trick?" wonders Geoff Savage. "It seems the sort of Marioesque thing that might happen."
HALF TIME: Germany 0-2 Italy. Mario Balotelli, eh? Bloody hell. That was a magnificent half of football. Italy are halfway to the final, while we've got 50 percent of a potential classic in the bag. But Germany will have to come back out flying.
HALF-TIME ENTERTAINMENT, FOR YOU FINNEGANS-WAKE-READING INTELLECTUALS WHO PREFER YOUR FOOTBALL IN A MORE CONSIDERED STYLE:
We join it with surprise finalist Lothar Schmid playing it cautiously with the white pieces.
And we're off again! A double change for Germany, who really do require the shake-up. They've got shot of the poor Podolski and Gomez, replacing them with Reus and Klose, who both scored in Germany's quarter-final shellacking of Greece. They get the ball rolling again, for what could be a rip-roaring second 45.
47 min: Germany seeing most of the ball at the start of the half. Possession as settler. "Beautiful football wedded to poor corner-taking and and a porous defence - have Italy shown up Germany as the Arsenal of the international world?" wonders Brian Brown.
48 min: Reus doesn't take long to make his mark. He cuts inside from the right, tricking his way past a flailing Bonucci, but having worked the opening he scuffs his shot towards the bottom-right corner. Buffon snaffles. "You know where this is going," sighs Thomas Cope. "Balotelli will score his hatrick in the 90th minute, take off his shirt, and get sent off. And miss the final; which Spain will win on penalties after a nil-nil game in which Spain have 98 percent possession."
49 min: This is much better from Germany already. Khedira and Reus combine to shuttle the ball in from the right. Reus slides the ball out left, the ball eventually coming to the feet of Lahm, who breaks into the area. He's not got much time to get a shot away, and rushes an attempt to find the top-right corner. The ball flies high over the bar as the German captain holds his head. That wasn't a gilt-edged chance, but good enough. Germany can't afford to pass many more of those up. "Surely England would be the Kinks," writes Elliot Wilson. "A brief, glorious period of brilliance in the 1960s followed by occasional glimpses of past glory in the decades ahead - but not doing quite enough to trouble the charts. "
52 min: Cassano twists, sashays and swishes down the left. He swings a low cross in. Germany's uncertain defenders nearly confuse themselves into gifting Balotelli a free whack at goal from eight yards, but eventually they shin it away. For a second, the match looked all but over there. "England are Spinal Tap!" blurts Gary Naylor, a missive which would make perfect sense even if it was an unsolicited non-sequitur.
54 min: The Italian fans are making one hell of a noise here, as well they might. They're forced to pause for a second as the busy Reus pelts down the right and drags a ball back for Klose, who goes down in the area with blue shirts nearby, but it's never a foul. "Can anyone explain the shirt removal = yellow card rule?" asks T.J. Murphy. "If FIFA/UEFA were trying to discourage the practice, it's failed miserably, hasn't it?"
55 min: Ozil meanders down the right and reaches the byline, Reus-style. He pulls a ball back for Klose, six yards out and level with the right-hand post, but the striker can't get the ball out from under his feet and is hassled out of it. Germany are beginning to threaten.
56 min: Klose breaks into the area down the inside-left channel and cocks his leg back to shoot, but is tackled at the death brilliantly by Bonucci. Nothing comes of the resulting corner.
58 min: Cassano - who has enjoyed some fancy times down the left this evening - is replaced by Diamanti. Here's Ryan Dunne: "Come on, when have England ever done anything as innovative and experimental as Jazz Odyssey?" Andy Carroll as Derek Smalls? You can picture him in Spandex, getting himself trapped inside a giant see-through egg, no?
60 min: Balotelli has a lash after a canter down the inside-right channel, but his shot flies across the face of goal and well wide.
62 min: Bonucci is booked for sticking his leg out and catching Schweinsteiger late. The free kick, 25 yards out and fairly central, is taken by Kroos, who nearly finds the top left with a fine, curling effort. Buffon is behind it all the way. The corner comes to naught. Germany aren't letting this lie, but whoever thought they would do?
64 min: Montolivo is replaced by Motta. "England are the Stereophonics," writes Steven Hughes. "They earn a lot of money but they offer nothing but tiresome, leaden, rubbish in return."
66 min: Diamanti's first effort is from the halfway line out on the left. No Xabi Alonso he. Balotelli stares at him, livid with the loss of possession, which is as saucy as it gets, really. "Rather than being a non-sequitur, I wonder whether Gary Naylor's proclamation (52 mins) is actually apposite rhyming slang?" wonders Adam Harper. Just as well Naylor didn't mention James Blunt.
67 min: Diamanti sidefoots a delicious pass between the German central defenders, setting Marchisio free. From the edge of the area, with other white shirts closing in as part of a pincer movement, the Italian shanks a shot miles wide right. What a chance to finish Germany off.
69 min: Balotelli is off! Happily for the two-goal hero, and the Italians, he's got cramp, and replaced with Di Natale. "I think Naylor's got it spot on," opines Phil Sawyer. "The Tap's attempts at close harmony singing at Graceland are a perfect metaphor for the 'Lampard and Gerrard are such good players that they can sort out how to play together' doctrine that haunted England for so long." Too much perspective, Phil.
71 min: An aggressive substitution for the Germans: the full back Boateng off, the attacker Muller on. Here's Simon McMahon: "If England are Spinal Tap then Italy are Puppet Show, who upstaged Tap at Themeland Amusement Park in Stockton, California, during the 1982 U.S. tour, prompting an outburst by interim manager Jeanine Pettibone / Mr Roy: I've told them a hundred times: put 'Spinal Tap' first and 'Puppet Show' last."
73 min: Germany's post-break puff, such as it was, seems to have run out. They're doing nothing up front now, while the pressure's showing at the back. Neuer races from his area to clear a loose ball, and is nearly relieved of it by Diamanti in the corner. He's forced to hack out in a panic. Nothing comes from Italy's territorial advantage. "England are Coldplay," suggests Nick Ladner. "Overpaid, overrated, mind-numbingly boring, technically poor and married to vapid celebrities."
75 min: Italy should be three up. Marchisio picks up the ball down the inside-right channel. There's only Badstuber about! He sells the defender a dummy, sending him sliding off in the Puskas-Wright style. He's one on one with Neuer, but it's a tight angle and Di Natale is clear in the middle. He should pass, but hesitates, then drags a shot across the face of goal and out wide on the left. This should be over.
78 min: Germany seem out of ideas. There's still plenty time. But Italy look the more likely to score the next goal. Diamanti tears clear down the inside-right channel, but stumbles like a newborn pony, allowing Lahm to clear. Then Pirlo sets De Rossi into space down the left, but the resulting cross can't find the head of Di Natale in the centre, and a grateful Neuer claims.
80 min: A loose ball drops from the skies on the edge of the Italian area, but Kroos can only hoick it miles over the bar. The tension is palpable. The place is crackling.
82 min: This really should be all over. Di Natale is set clear by a long, raking pass - think Geoff Hurst at the end of that game - but slices a pathetic effort into the right-hand side netting.
83 min: Germany have given up defending. Blazaretti is in acres down the right, and passes a lovely shot into the bottom-left corner. But he had clumsily ran miles offside.
84 min: De Rossi is booked for... erm, well, I missed that. Some sort of transgression of the rules, I'll be bound.
85 min: Germany work the ball down the inside-right channel. Reus and Muller exchange passes, the former being denied as he looks to shoot from eight yards by a late challenge from Chiellini. From the corker, Kroos topspins a half-decent effort over from the edge of the box.
88 min: A ball swung into the Italian area from the German right. Buffon - who has been typically superb, a couple of early shakes apart - comes out to snaffle. A sense gathering that this is all over. "England are Status Quo, still banging out the same three chord/ three banks pattern that brought some success in more brutal and macho times but is left far behind in the modern metro world," suggests Robin Hazelhurst. "Light on subtlety and originality, but full of passion and commitment and very 110%. Scotland meanwhile are Rod Stewart." They can't squeeze into their trousers?
89 min: Motta is booked for a late clip on Schweinsteiger. "One thing we know with certainty: win or lose, the Italians will be crying," quips Steve Buist.
90 min: An awful scramble in the Italian box, Hummels with the ball at this feet at the left-hand post, but unable to get a shot away. Bonucci bundles out for a corner, from which Ozil zips a low, hard shot not too far wide right of the post. On the bench, Low has the funk on. But it's an elegant funk. A metrofunk.
90 min +1: There will be four added minutes, and the first has been and gone.
90 min +2: PENALTY TO GERMANY! AND A GOAL! Germany 1-2 Italy. A ball played straight down the middle bounces onto the ground and up onto Balzaretti's hand. he was under pressure from Klose. The ref points to the spot. Ozil steps up, and wastes no time in screaming a spot kick into the top right.
90 min +3: Hummels is booked for arguing against a free kick awarded for next to nowt as he challenges for a high ball.
90 min +4: There's going to be one last Hail Mary free kick. Neuer races forward. Schweinstieger takes - but doesn't launch it first-time into the box, at which point the referee puts his whistle to his mouth, and...
ITALY HAVE REACHED THE FINAL OF EURO 2012!!! Germany 1-2 Italy. Italy were excellent, a much deserved victory in a very entertaining match. Playing like that, Spain will have an awful lot to think about on Sunday. They dance about and celebrate wildly, while Germany do that thousand-yard-stare thing. Wow. Maybe not a gold-plated classic for the ages, but decent enough, and if you had a knockout phase full of those, you'd have yourself a real tournament to remember.
So Germany still can't beat Italy in a competitive fixture. And yet another of this season's big games slips away from a good proportion of the Bayern Munich squad. At least poor Arjen Robben can't be blamed this time.