Why Italy should not drop Mario Balotelli from the World Cup squad
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Still only 23-years-old, Mario Balotelli is never too far away from controversy. Whether it’s on or off the pitch, the Italian media almost always has something to say about ‘Super Mario’. The latest speculation suggests that Italy coach Cesare Prandelli might be considering leaving Balotelli out of his squad for the World Cup in June, given some recent disappointing displays for AC Milan and the striker’s latest TV outburst.
However, if Balotelli were to remain on the sidelines, it would be a brave but ultimately foolish decision by Prandelli. The simple truth is that although Balotelli may be unpredictable, he is the Azurri’s most dangerous attacking weapon. An on-form Balotelli will inevitably mean an on-form Italian side. So much so that the betting odds invariably have Balotelli among the favourites to be the tournament’s top goalscorer. No other Italian striker comes close.
As he proved at Euro 2012, Balotelli can produce his trademark combination of pace, power and ruthless finishing on the biggest stages of all. In terms of raw talent, he is the kind of striker that no defender relishes playing against. Italy may have alternative, experienced and accomplished strikers, but none that strike fear into the opposition the way Balotelli does. And, he has an impressive goal scoring record to match, having netted regularly for Inter Milan, Manchester City and now the Rossoneri, where he has scored on average in excess of once every other game.
Those who have criticised Balotelli’s recent performances for AC Milan need to take into account the side that he is playing in. This is hardly a classic Rossoneri team and the fact that the coach was sacked during the middle of the season tells its own story. On many occasions, it is Balotelli himself who has rescued AC Milan from the brink of disaster and it is no exaggeration to say that their qualification for the Champions League last season would have been unlikely without Balotelli. His frustration has been obvious on occasions, but it is likely the result of knowing that he is at times single-handedly carrying his team-mates. Although Balotelli’s demeanour could certainly be refined, he cannot be criticised for not caring.
If Italy coach Prandelli were to leave Balotelli out of his team, there is a huge question mark over who would replace him. Some have suggested that Parma striker Antonio Cassano would play as a ‘false nine,’ suiting his typically intelligent forward play. Another option, according to some would be the likes of Ciro Immobile or even Dani Osvaldo, who has failed to impress at either Southampton or Juventus this season. However, a genuine contender for a starting place in Prandelli’s line up was Giuseppe Rossi. The diminutive front-man is a real goal-poacher and although he lacks the physical presence of Balotelli, Rossi knows how to find the back of the net.
Unfortunately, the Fiorentina man has once again been ravaged by injury with a place in the Italian squad unlikely, unless he proves his fitness. He has been named in the list of players to undergo physical tests before Prandelli decides his squad, but his knee injury which has kept him out since January, could be an issue. He did make his comeback for Fiorentina, but is it too little too late?
Which means that in-form Ciro Immobile could be set for the World Cup in Brazil. The current Serie A top-scorer has impressed viewers with his goal-scoring abilities, helping lowly Torino to an impressive league campaign this season. Immobile and Balotelli can certainly form up a lethal partnership