Euro 2012: spotlight on Mario Balotelli
- Thu 07 Jun 2012, 1:25PM
- Posted by Mark Booth
The 21-year old’s international career has stuttered at times since his debut in 2010 but there’s a feeling that Cesare Prandelli is finally ready to unleash Super Mario at Euro 2012...
Sometimes an international side can find themselves caught between generations, in a state of footballing limbo – one foot in the past and one in the future. This is how Italy have found themselves after their disastrous World Cup 2010 campaign.
Cesare Prandelli was brought in under the remit of revolution and in his time as Azzurri boss, pragmatism has seemed to rule over free expression but in Mario Balotelli, the former Fiorentina coach knows that he has a player capable of lighting up Euro 2012 this summer.
Mario has scored only twice in 13 appearances for his country but, deprived of a regular starting berth and shunted around the forward line, it’s unsurprising that his international career has yet to fully lift off.
The Italy coach is also a strict disciplinarian and there was a sense that Prandelli felt that he couldn’t trust Mario to keep his cool in the pressure cooker of a major tournament but, thanks to the striker’s form for Manchester City this season, Prandelli had no choice but to include him in the 23 for the tournament.
The Palermo-born forward was a key contributor to City’s title success last season, scoring and creating goals at crucial moments to keep the title race alive. On the final day, Sergio Aguero may have taken the headlines for scoring the winning goal but it was Mario’s introduction that helped to break the QPR resistance.
Balotelli buzzed between the lines, cutting in from the channels trying to pry open the QPR defence in those desperate final 15 minutes, earning his reward when, falling backwards, he slipped through Aguero in the 94th minute.
It was Balotelli, too, who set City on their way with the first goal in the 6-1 win at Old Trafford in October and he stepped up to convert the injury-time penalty against Spurs at the Etihad Stadium in January.
Antonio Cassano or Antonio Di Natale will compete to partner Mario for their opening fixture against Spain, meaning Italy will have plenty of goals in them. If they can keep things tight at the back, their blend of youth and experience could introduce new silverware into Mario’s hands.