Mario Balotelli has described his match-winning performance in Italy’s Euro 2012 semi-final victory over Germany as “the best night of my life”.
The 21-year-old Manchester City striker scored two first-half goals to set the platform for the 2-1 win, dedicating the victory to his adopted mum Silvia.
The Azzurri will now play favourites Spain in Sunday’s final.
"This was the greatest night of my life and I hope Sunday will be better," Balotelli said.
At the final whistle, Balotelli sought out his family and embraced them in the stands. "At the end of the game I went to my mother - that was the best moment," he added.
"I told her these goals were for her. I waited a long time for this moment, especially as my mother is not young anymore and can’t travel far, so I had to make her happy when she came all the way here. My father will be in Kiev for the final too."
Balotelli’s two goals took him joint top of the Euro 2012 scoring charts with three. “I will try to win the top scorer award,” he said.
"In football sometimes you can try so many times and it doesn’t go in, or try few and it does all the time. It was a fantastic assist, the kind only Antonio Cassano can provide, while Riccardo Montolivo’s pass was great too.”
He celebrated his second goal by taking off his shirt and striking a typically defiant pose. "They didn’t get angry because I was booked for taking my shirt off, but they saw my physique and got jealous," he joked.
Balotelli, who was substituted midway through the second half, dismissed any injury worries and declared himself fit for Sunday’s final. “I had cramp and was a little tired, but I told the coach to wait five minutes and by that point the substitution was already in progress. It’s fine.”
Italy now meet Spain for the second time in the tournament, having played out a 1-1 draw in the group stages. And Balotelli believes that, despite Germany’s lacklustre performance, the Azzurri are in the final on merit.
"When Italy win it is because the other team played bad," he said. "I think we won because we were better and we deserved it.
"We are with Spain, we are the two best teams in the tournament," he added.
"I hope to win, I don’t care if I play badly as long as we give our all. We have to relax, mustn’t get frustrated with Spain’s possession and keep playing our football.
"We are the only side to have scored against Spain so far. We proved that we are equal to them, if not more, and we want to win."
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said Balotelli’s performance had proved he had developed into a team player and not just an individual.
"Mario is rather unique, he’s atypical. He’s very strong and fights for the team. He’s always been there when called upon and he fights in the penalty area," he said.
"The career of Mario Balotelli has only just begun."
Not all the Italians were as content, however. Captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon stormed off the field at the final whistle, furious at Italy’s failure to convert a host of second-half chances that would have put the result beyond doubt.
"I was annoyed because I don’t celebrate second place and I was angry with us because we could have avoided the difficult final five minutes," Buffon said.
"When you can score seven goals against Germany, you have to score seven because if they come back to 2-2 they’ll beat you 10-2 in extra-time. We need to be more mature and to know that even if football is a game, when you reach the European Championship final, it’s no longer a game."
Andrea Pirlo, who was named man-of-the-match, also sounded a note of caution for Sunday’s final. “We haven’t done anything yet,” he said. “There’s no use going to Rome and not seeing the Pope. We want to go home with this cup.”