Mario Balotelli stood shirtless, his intimidating muscles flexed, staring straight ahead. He refused to betray any emotion. Indeed, he refused to do anything other than stand and stare. But then his teammates engulfed him, and, through a crowd of sweating bodies, his face slowly softened into the faintest trace of a smile.
On Thursday night, Loew’s German players stopped being world beaters and instead became nearly-men. Italy progressed to the final, where they will serve as the last obstacle in Spain’s pursuit of a historic third consecutive tournament victory. Antonio Cassano, who suffered a stroke in October, elevated himself from endearing bad boy to national hero. Andrea Pirlo commanded midfield with his customary elegance and poise, but the contributions of others overshadowed him. Italy’s was the ultimate team performance.