This is going to be more interesting than anticipated. Comparing the performances of 2 of the strikers on show in the Germany-Italy Semi final - Messrs Balotelli and Gomez. As it turned out, it was a completely one sided battle won by the Italian, something not many people would have predicted.
On the face of it, this should have been a walkover. One man is the leading scorer in for Bayern Munich and has 3 goals from 3 starts in this competition. The other is an occasional starter for Man City and has scored twice in 12 international appearances.
The Battles of the Marios seemed certain to end in a Gomez victory. But as is often the case, Mr Balotelli had other ideas.
In the build up to the game, there was some doubt over who would start up front for either side. Balotelli had worked hard against England, but hadn’t taken advantage of the chances that fell his way. Di Natale was waiting in the wings, and there were rumours he would be chosen to partner Antonio Cassano up front. For Germany, Miroslav Klose had started against Greece and scored his (approx) 235th International goal, so it was no guarantee that Gomez would get his place back for the Semi Final. As it turned out, both Balotelli and Gomez started, but it was only one coach who saw his decision vindicated.
Germany came out of the blocks the stronger and they had a few early chances. However, Gomez was peripheral to the whole thing and barely got a kick. That’s not uncommon for Gomez and he often looks like passenger, before coming up with a goal. Big Mario sometimes reminds me of Jason Bourne at an airport! All around him is a hub of activity and people rushing round, but he just stands still in the middle, in his own little calm world. Meanwhile at the other end of the field, Balotelli spent the first 20 minutes chasing lost causes and struggling to get involved. His struggles were epitomised by a chase with Hummels, in which the young German defender out-muscled him and strode off with the ball, whilst Balotelli was left sitting on the ground looking confused. To Mario’s credit, he didn’t get overly annoyed by this embarrassment and just trotted back up the field.
After 20 minutes, Balotelli gave Italy the lead, although the goal was as much done to the craft of Cassano. The Italian forward made an exquisite turn on the corner of the area, took out 2 German defenders and planted a perfect cross onto Balotelli's head. It was a relatively simple finish, but Balotelli showwed a good strikers instinct by being in the right place at the right time. Suddenly, Balotelli was energized and for the rest of the first half he terrorized the Germans with his pace and movement. The previously unruffled centre back pairing of Badstuber and Hummels were chasing shadows as Mario was at the forefront of countless Italian attacks. This version of Balotelli was a world away from the stroppy, disinterested Balotelli that often wears a Man City shirt.
This was highlighted by his second goal after 36 minutes - a hopeful through ball from Montelivo was pounced on by Balotelli who took a couple of touches before unleashing a 20 yard rocket into the corner of the net. Manuel Neuer barely moved and when he did it was merely to retrieve the ball. Balotelli took his shirt off and did his trademark arrogant pose. A yellow card followed and you wondered if this would come back to haunt him later in the match, but this was an in-control Balotelli. There was no arguing or needless challenges, he was just getting on with his job of leading the Italian attack.
Meanwhile, Mario G was continuing his statuesque performance leading the German line. One moment in particular summed up his evening. An intricate move ended up with Toni Kroos playing a ball into Gomez's feet. Gomez had his back to the goal, but was in the penalty area in a central position. The pass took a slight deflection, but rather than move to receive the pass, Gomez just watched as the ball passed a couple of feet from him. Cue lots of " double teapots" from the German side and it may have been at that moment that Joachim Loew decided to cut short Mario's evening. It was no surprise when Miroslav Klose emerged for the second half. Whilst Klose didn't get on the score sheet, his movement and effort was a vast improvement on Gomez's effort. Gomez's display was more fuel for the doubters who question whether he can do it on the biggest stages. Certainly his display wasn't up to the standards of a "world class" strikers and whilst you can't argue with his goalscoring record, he doesn't have the movement and presence of the really great forwards in the world game.
As for Balotelli, he carried on where he left off in the second half. Chasing and harrying defenders, plus using the ball wisely when in possession. In fact, it was due to this massive effort that Balotelli's evening ended prematurely. Halfway through the second half he pulled up with cramp in his leg, after lengthy treatment the physio decided that it would take too long for him to recover. Mario spent the rest of the game on the Italian bench and the rare smile he gave at the final whistle was of a job well done. Even at this early stage of his career, this was a defining moment for Balotelli and the moment he announced himself as a world class striker.