Why always him? Italy frets over the two sides of Balotelli
After AC Milan's worst season in decades, Italians will be hoping Mario Balotelli can end his goal drought at the World Cup finals.
But no one can be sure how the temperamental striker will perform or react to being in Brazil.
Italy has a tough Group D at the finals, against England, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Coaches, players and fans wonder which side of Balotelli's character will be on display.
Will it be the Balotelli left in tears on the bench after being substituted during a 3-1 defeat to Napoli in February? Or will it be the Balotelli who, a week later, hit a 35-metre thunderbolt to secure a 1-0 win over Bologna?
The incidents illustrate the inner turmoil and genius of a footballer who, according to previous handlers like former Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini, could be a footballing great.
The incidents also offer clues to the inner workings of a player known for a rebellious streak which, if controlled, can have devastating effects for the opposition - and devastating effects for his own team if left unfettered.
Balotelli firmly established himself as Italy's first-choice striker after scoring four goals, including a brace in the semi-final against Germany, at the 2012 European Championships.
He went on to score seven times in World Cup qualifying as Italy finished top of Group B with two games to spare.
But his eye for goal is tempered by inconsistency and a lack of discipline.
Balotelli has improved this season, provoking nine yellow cards in 25 games compared to seven in 13 encounters last season. But his quick temper and inability to turn the other cheek could prove costly to Italy in Brazil.
Still only 23, the man born as Mario Barwuah to immigrants from Ghana has come a long way since being permanently fostered by the white, Italian Balotelli family in his formative years.
Only recently Balotelli underwent a DNA test which confirmed that he was the father of a one-year-old daughter Pia by former girlfriend Raffaella Fico, who is based in Napoli.
Days later, Milan travelled to Napoli, Milan were outgunned and Balotelli suffered the indignity of being substituted by coach Clarence Seedorf for a mediocre display.
A week later, Balotelli's wonder strike against Bologna made amends and Balotelli lashed out at media intrusion into his private affairs.
"People are looking far too much into my private life. I would advise them not to because I'm the Italy striker and they should leave me alone to live my life as I want so I can perform to my best on the pitch," he said.
The battle for striker places in Cesare Prandelli's squad has intensified, with Mattia Destro and Giuseppe Rossi all rivals to Balotelli named in Italy's 30-man squad on Tuesday.
Ciro Immobile, who with 22 Serie A goals this season for Torino leads the scoring charts, is also in line.
So far, Prandelli has stood behind Balotelli. But the 56-year-old coach warned: "Balotelli is an important player for the national team, like a lot of others.
"But he must come to the World Cup fully prepared. He would do well to listen to Seedorf and channel the emotions he is feeling into something positive on the pitch."
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