Balotelli can lead Italy to Euro 2012 crown
Euro 2012: Warsaw
Mario Balotelli may have claimed he was "more of a man than Peter Pan" - but in his moment of triumph he was simply the boy who made his mother proud.
Balotelli ended the greatest night of his career draped in the arms of his adoptive mother Silvia as she balanced precariously on a ledge above the tunnel at Warsaw's magnificent national stadium.
It was a touching scene as this tearful, elderly lady clasped one of the game's most compelling and charismatic figures, stroking the back of his head in a gesture of affection all of Italy will have understood.
Manchester City's 21-year-old enigma had proved he could be trusted on the highest stage, responding to the responsibility handed to him by Italy coach Cesare Prandelli as he scored the goals that gave them a 2-1 win over Germany to secure Sunday's Euro 2012 final against Spain in Kiev.
For a few brief seconds, after Mesut Ozil's penalty had given Germany unlikely hope of a reprieve, Balotelli dragged the Azzurri shirt over his head in anxiety. He need not have worried because this was his and Italy's night - and deservedly so.
Italy's man of the match Andrea Pirlo may have given a performance adjudicator Peter Schmeichel described as "a piece of art" but as always Balotelli was pure theatre.
It was clearly an emotional time after the final whistle as Balotelli said: "I have waited for this moment for so long, especially since my mum came here. I wanted to make her happy and this is the most beautiful night of my life."
Balotelli's deeds have ensured an even better one may await against favourites Spain in Kiev's Olympic Stadium on Sunday - and on the evidence produced in Warsaw Italy may just make it happen.
At the centre of it all will be the young man who has had us all scratching our heads in puzzlement but, in equal measure, provoking an acceptance of a truly special talent.
Balotelli was a threat against England without scoring but he nervelessly buried his
penalty in the victorious shoot-out against Manchester City team-mate Joe Hart, despite being stared out by the goalkeeper.
Here in Warsaw he scored two goals of uncharacteristic conventionality. The first showing cute movement with a fine headed finish from Antonio Cassano's cross, the second an emphatically drilled strike from Riccardo Montolivo's pass.
Balotelli's night may have been ended by cramp but there is no doubt he will be pivotal to Prandelli's plans in Kiev as Italy attempt to unseat the world and European champions.
For a man who often plays in a state of chaos, Balotelli was cold and measured as he joined his colleagues in terrorising Germany's defence as Italy gave the lie to the theory that Joachim Loew's side were the men most likely to beat Spain.
Italy's achievement in beating Germany should be placed in context. They had 48 hours less rest and needed to recover mentally and physically from beating England after extra-time and penalties. They have also now extended an unbeaten run in competitive fixtures against them to eight games.
They were meant to have simply taken England's place as an eminently negotiable obstacle to German progress. How wrong this theory proved to be.
Italy were deserved winners and demonstrated that Spain will take them lightly at their peril. This is a side, developed by the under-stated Prandelli, that is more than capable of winning Euro 2012.
And again pulling every string, orchestrating every movement, was the magnificent Pirlo as he emerges as the star of this tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
The script dictated that, after toying with England in Kiev, Germany would wrap the shackles around Pirlo. If facing England was a party, then it would be over in the semi-final.
Germany coach Loew had noted Pirlo's contribution against England and acted accordingly by detailing Toni Kroos to subdue him. It did not work and Pirlo was on to the midfield man's game early on with a withering look and a few words when his shadow attempted some of the heavy stuff.
The Germans were effectively warned what might happen and were still powerless to stop the great manipulator.
Spain, as the record shows, are an outstanding side and the idea that they are somehow "boring" only holds weight because of the regularity with which they now collect the game's great prizes. They are boringly successful.
But Balotelli has a natural sense of being centre stage and on Sunday night in Kiev he will stride the biggest of his short but eventful career.
Mario brought his adoptive mother to tears in Poland - will he be able to resist the lure of making her even prouder in Ukraine by beating Spain and winning Euro 2012?