His electrifying goals in Italy’s 2-1 victory against Germany was a definitive coming-of-age moment for the enigmatic striker.
The goals, of course, were brilliant. His first tally came in the 20th minute when Germany foolishly allowed Andrea Pirlo time to survey the field. The Italian maestro hit a perfect diagonal ball to left-back Giorgio Chiellini, who wisely deferred to striker Antonio Cassano. The AC Milan striker expertly turned inside the German defense and whipped an inch-perfect cross towards goal. There, Balotelli beat Holger Badstuber to the spot and sent the ball home from point-blank range to give Italy an early lead.
For his next trick, the striker exploited the gap between Badstuber and his defensive colleague Mats Hummels. One touch with the chest collected Riccardo Montolivo‘s long ball, and another with his left foot perfectly set him up to launch an upper-90 rocket. 36 minutes in and Italy held a commanding 2-0 lead it would never relinquish.
While the highlights will focus on his two exquisite goals, they don’t paint the whole picture of the Italian’s display. For 70 minutes, Balotelli ruthlessly bullied Hummels and Badstuber in every facet of the game. He never failed to challenge for aerial duels despite giving up significant size to both players.
Meanwhile, his hold-up play gave Italian defenders a respite from German pressure and crucially brought midfielders into Italy’s attack. Most impressive of all however, were Balotelli’s sincere efforts in tracking back defensively when the Germans pressed for an equalizer — something the much-lauded Wayne Rooney couldn’t be bothered to do in England’s loss to the Italians. This selfless performance served notice that Balotelli has finally matched his prodigious physical abilities with the mental commitment required to fulfill his limitless potential.
His natural ability has been apparent since he broke into Inter Milan’s starting 11 as a teenager. Even then — competing against players twice his age — the Italian displayed the physical and technical attributes of a future world-class player. However, Balotelli’s ability to befuddle defenders is only equaled by his ability to alienate teammates and managers, a self-destructive trait that has repeatedly dogged him throughout his career.
When Italy manager Cesare Prandelli announced that Balotelli would spearhead his country’s attack at the Euros, many pundits criticized the manager for putting his faith in such an unpredictable character. After Thursday’s “Man of the Match” performance, the pundits have been silenced and Prandelli’s faith has been repaid twice over.