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Maturing Balotelli puts side before self
Published : 30 Jun 2012 13:17:24
Mario Balotelli would happily sacrifice his shot at the Golden Boot prize if it meant Italy won Euro 2012.
Much has been made of Cristiano Ronaldo's failure to take a penalty during Portugal's shoot-out defeat to Spain on Wednesday amid claims the former Manchester United man wished to take the last kick because it offered more personal glory.
At the start of the tournament, it would have been easy to imagine Balotelli taking a similar stance. But throughout Italy's run to the final against Spain, the 21-year-old has acted with a rare maturity, and he said: "If we win and I score, it will be amazing. If I don't score and we win it will still be amazing."
Should the Azzurri triumph at the weekend, he will have winners' medals in a major international tournament, in addition to the Champions League, titles in England and Italy, plus the FA Cup - not bad for someone who is still regarded as a joke player by his critics.
Yet throughout all the controversy that has raged around Balotelli this season, City boss Roberto Mancini has continued to insist he was worth the effort.
Mancini has been left exasperated and amused in equal measure by his Inter Milan protege's antics. But he always knew Balotelli had immense talent, which is what Italy are reaping the benefits of now.
"We won the league at Manchester City so having a good season for me doesn't depend on winning the Euros," he said. "If we don't win it, it wouldn't spoil the other things but it would be special."
For most of the last two years, Balotelli has been compared unfavourably to City team-mate David Silva, who has not given Mancini a moment's trouble since his arrival from Valencia. Silva is part of a Blues dressing room that holds Balotelli in genuine affection, for all the diversions he has caused.
On Sunday though, they will be on opposite sides. It is a challenge Balotelli is relishing.
"I know David very well," said Balotelli. "I played against him in the first game. It is going to be fun."