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Tuesday June 19 2012
Super Mario the Super Sub

He sealed Italy's place in the Euro 2012 quarters, but does Mario Balotelli merit a return to the starting XI? Scott Fleming writes.

Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen. The slogan of choice for sexists the world over, but it’s one Cesare Prandelli might want to bear in mind when deliberating over his starting line-up for Sunday evening in Kiev. The fact that Italy are today looking forward to a Euro 2012 quarter-final, instead of glumly trooping on to a flight home, is thanks to Spain and the impotency of Ireland's attack yes, but also to Mario Balotelli.

For all the Azzurri's superiority at the Stadion Miejski last night, the fighting Irish were only definitively killed off when Super Mario powered up in the 90th minute. Like most of the best things he does it was the casualness, the sheer half-assed-ness of his goal which was striking. Most great overhead kicks involve the perpetrator having both feet off the ground, but Balo kept his left foot firmly planted on the turf whilst using his right to bash the ball beyond John O’Shea and Shay Given, scoring one of the goals of the tournament in the process.

Predictably, lamentably, he then decided to mouth off, aiming a few choice words at the Irish fans, though some including completely unbiased BBC commentator Mick McCarthy assumed the worst – that the outburst was directed at Prandelli. As soon as Balotelli pressed self destruct however, Leonardo Bonucci pressed override, clamping his fingers over the striker's mouth before any more expletives could emerge. Never has a Balotelli tantrum been so swiftly and emphatically neutralised. It was a surprise to see one of the younger players in the squad intervene, and not a seasoned veteran, but it’s precisely the sort of thing that should be happening more often.

A poll on the Gazzetta dello Sport's website today shows 37.5 per cent in favour of a Balotelli-Antonio Cassano attack in Kiev, and only 19.8 per cent backing the Cassano-Antonio Di Natale pairing. Tantrum or no tantrum, many are now advocating Balotelli's return to the starting line-up. But doing so they miss the point of exactly why he was so good last night. Because it wasn't just his goal, the boy from Brescia crammed more good things into his 16 minute cameo than the 126 he played against Spain and Croatia. In those games he was earnest, working hard and keeping his temper in check, but he was also clumsy and uncertain, not the Mario we know, not dangerous. Last night his every touch oozed menace, striking fear into the Irish rearguard.

The 21-year-old appears to be, like his former Inter strike partner Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player who feeds off negative energy, who needs something to rail against, whether it’s being dropped by his  Coach or jeered by opposition fans – two factors that were in place in Poznan.

There's another good reason to retain Balotelli as a super sub, the two AntoniosCassano and Di Natale – actually worked rather well together. The magic midgets compensated for their lack of  height and physicality with intelligence and ingenuity, FantAntonio nodding in the opener, Toto almost replicating his outrageous goal against Catania on the last day of the season with an angled effort cleared off the line by Sean St Ledger. Neither of them is where Prandelli would like them to be fitness wise, but that's where Balotelli comes in. 

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Have your say...
Eigher mentally (Balo) or phisically (Di Natale and Cassano) we must agree that they are a must for Italy to score eigher directly or indirectly by sucking in the defenders and leaving others to score. The key for Prandelli is to know how to split the time between them. Personally, I would have them all in the game but like I said at the begining, not possible. That will be key in winning a game against a strong English side. I won't mind loosing if England realy outplays us but Forza Italia!!!
on the 20th June, 2012 at 11:48pm
4-3-1-2 is not the answer vs England, they'll play narrow because we don't like crossing the ball & we would be prone to counter attacks with the pace they possess. 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 will suffice to match their midfield & keep them stretched. I would also keep Balotelli on the Bench - The English will get on his case and no doubt he'll do something stupid as a result! He's a Super Sub lets face it!

Buffon

Bonucci
De Rossi
Barzagli

Abate
Nocerino
Pirlo
Marchisio
Balzaretti

Di Natale
Cassano
on the 20th June, 2012 at 3:50pm
I agree that Cassano, Balotelli and Di Natale should all start.
Buffon
Barzagli
Bonucci
Balzaretti
Abate
Pirlo
De Rossi
Marchisio
Cassano
Balotelli
Di Natale
Formation of 4 - 3 - 1 -2
I hope CP spots this. Italy need strong presence up front in this game because the England back line is strong and Italy will need as much fire power as bspossiblhe to score.
on the 20th June, 2012 at 3:27pm
Best 11 to play England.....

Buffon
Bonucci De Rossi Barzagli
Maggio Marchisio Motta Balzaretti
Pirlo
Cassano Balotelli

Subs
Giovinco for Cassano when the game gets stretched, and his pace will kill Terry
on the 20th June, 2012 at 2:15pm
England are no pushovers & lets not forget Roy Hodgson got Serie A experience on his CV. If theres an Englishman that knows about Italian Football its him.

Italy won't have it easy come Sunday especially with Chiellini out. Balo should be used as a super sub, Giovinco should be deployed as a trequartista in place of Motta.

The Azzurri have been warned....
on the 20th June, 2012 at 12:45pm
It's perfectly plausible to start all 3 together. Prandelli can keep the 4-3-1-2, and start Cassano as a trequartista with Balotelli and DiNatale up front. England is a good matchup to start Balotelli b/c of his Premiere League experience.
on the 20th June, 2012 at 12:37pm
It wil b a very hard game against england..italia have to b at their very best and b 100% focused. Balo 2 start with di natale cassano behind in a TQ Role.pirlo central mid .must have solid back 4..plan b switch to 3 5 2...what ever prandelli chooses azzurri must b 100% in all ways....forza rosa nero..palermo nell cuori
on the 20th June, 2012 at 12:14pm
i think for engalnd we should stick with same back four with ogbonna taking over from Chiellini, we need some tall and strong as england will put balls in to the box as well as de rossi infront of the back
on the 20th June, 2012 at 11:28am
Aldo did you not see Chiellini against Croatia? He cant time headers anyway so better he isnt playing against Carroll, More mobile is needed against England Barzagli and Bonucci, I would go 3-5-2 again risk it, De Rossi In the middle Barzagli and Bonucci either side but then again if they play Walcott and Ox with the pace 3 at the back may get ruined.
on the 20th June, 2012 at 10:51am
Delighted with the England result last night - means the Azzurri get a nice easy quarter final against the only side left in the competition never to reach a final!
on the 20th June, 2012 at 9:41am
Well, I have to say England is weaker than France, so best draw for the Azzurri. I think if Italy play their game then England can't win, but danger for Italy will be Gerrard's crosses, a bigger concern now that Chiellini is out. England have not turned up yet, even though they've got results... I hope they continue to under perform and give Italy chances in front of goal. Hodgson will play defensive counter attack style v Italy, that is a certainty.
on the 20th June, 2012 at 8:50am
Believe it or not: Balotelli is indispensable to the Azzurri. He has the characteristics that no other four strikers have: a big, strong, tall, technical player. The styles of Cassano, Di Natale and Giovinco are quite similar and Borini is still too green to be important at the moment. In addition to that, Cassano and Di Natale may not be able to play at the highest level for 90 minutes or more. Among the five strikers, Balotelli absence may be the most missed!
on the 20th June, 2012 at 8:39am
Balotelli did nothing except score a great goal but prior to that he had the opportunity to pass the ball to a team mate who could have had a scoring chance. He is greedy and selfish. He cares nothing about the national team as was witnessed when the anthem was played. Di Natale is the only natural striker we have and must start. He is lightning quick and lethal.
on the 20th June, 2012 at 8:01am
In WC 2006 we started with 4-3-1-2, Totti behind two strikers. As soon as the going got tough after the USA game, we resorted back to guerilla warefare 4-4-2 rugged tactics.
We pretended there was still a TQ with Camo playing there, much like Prandelli is doing with Motta. There should be a genuine TQ in that position. The game has changed a lot today, can't rely on 2006 tactics to play good football and win tournaments. Prandelli promised change, now he's getting scared cos its torny football
on the 20th June, 2012 at 6:44am
Mario Balotelli and Thiago Motta are two world class players. You only miss Motta when he is not there as Inter learned when he went to PSG. You Motta haters are dunces. This is our strongest midfielder if he is not asked to play trequartista.
on the 20th June, 2012 at 2:39am
England have avoided Spain - woohoo! Show some respect Chiles from ITV.. Italy are up for the battle bring it on..

To me it looked like France would rather face Spain than Italy!

Forza Azzurri
on the 19th June, 2012 at 9:25pm
I could only read the first 2 paragraphs of this and had to coment. Balotelli finished nothing off. The game was finished when Ireland had a man sent off, were tired and Prandelli did hs job and brought on fresh legs at the right time

The game was brought to us by Cassano' header which we seem to be forgetting about.

The Azzurri were superior to no one because they were slow, lost the ball so often and play like there were missing somone because they had such an awful game (Pirlo)
on the 19th June, 2012 at 9:04pm
Well its Englaand and unfortunately without Chiellini. Their pace and strength will be a problem. Italia need to have players who can match their physicality. Nocerino for Motta, Bonucci for Chiellini. For me England start as favourites. After 60 minutes a number of Italians tire badly. Fingers crossed.
on the 19th June, 2012 at 8:54pm
As people have already said Italy suffered alot with tiredness in the last two games, hopefully the long break they have now until the quarter final will help them.

Abate and Balzaretti were 100 times better than Maggio and Giaccherini, although I think Balzaretti's defensive qualities are lacking slightly and Abate didnt attack as much in the second half. Bonucci has played well so far and infact since Xmas, so dont think the defence will miss Chiellini.
on the 19th June, 2012 at 6:22pm
The balo debate is absurd. Of course he should start! It's no coincidence Italy has been its best only when he's on the field. It's not just his presence in front of goal but just as important, his disrupting the other team by being the only attacker who pressures the D and back mid moving out of their half. What Prand should be concerning himself with is getting Motta off the pitch. The worst player, he offers nothing. I doesn't look upfield at all and always looks to pass off. He's a pylon
on the 19th June, 2012 at 6:10pm
Balo should only be used as a sub. It is clear that he has neither the experience nor the clinical finishing that is required at this level. One piece of good work against a weak opposition does not warrant a starting place. But above all, he needs to grow up. Last thing Italy needs right now is a sulking, petulant and selfish player (that he is) in the camp. Personally, I would have never take him as I can not stand his attitude on the pitch.
on the 19th June, 2012 at 5:14pm
BALO great? if he is I wonder what Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta, Xavi etc are. Did someone actually write that he could be as good as Totti, Dp or Baggio. The man is like a reality tv show.Italy should play with a 4-3-3 with defence of last nite, midfield of DDR, Marchisio and Pirlo wit attack of Cassano, Balo and Gio. Di Natale is the best finisher but hes 34 and should not start games. Ive never understood Motta's inclusion nor do I get why Diamanti is in the squad but that is down to the manager.
on the 19th June, 2012 at 5:04pm
Cassano had his best game of the tournament and I believe he enjoyed not having to worry about his strike partner. Balotelli is just as likely to be sent off than score a goal like he did last night. He will never be in the class of Baggio, Del Piero or Totti and to even mention his name in the same breath is an insult to those three Italian legends. Bonucci saved him from suspension last night and Buffon clearly wasn't happy with him. Maybe Gigi should have slapped him harder.
on the 19th June, 2012 at 4:33pm
Balotelli is a useless player. Italy should not use him ever again... but then I am french, so u probably know why I am saying what I am saying
on the 19th June, 2012 at 4:15pm
Why not Balo and Di Natale?
on the 19th June, 2012 at 3:50pm
Cassano and Di Natale are very good players but they are not as strong or tall like balotelli is, both they both make up for that in experience which was shown in the last two games. One thing i have notices in the 3games with out Balotelli italy loses threat in front of goal. I would like to see Borini come on the 2nd half with Giovinco they both have good pace and can cause some trouble.

I think what of helped Cassano and Di Natale last night was to have Pirlo play behind instead of Motta
on the 19th June, 2012 at 3:22pm
To those who doubt Balotelli's ability and still question weather he derves to be in Italy's starting IX, last night match and his substituition against Crotia is your answer. No Balo No Party. Forza Balotelli.
on the 19th June, 2012 at 3:01pm
Someone else mentioned a Balotelli-Giovinco combination and I second that. Cassano can play behind them as trequartista. He has the ability to find the right pass to Giovinco or Balotelli.
on the 19th June, 2012 at 2:34pm
Last night's formula worked well..Cassano and Di Natale tired out the defence, and balotelli came on and outmuscled them all. He is a fantastic powerful striker, let's never forget that...his temperament is no worse than Rooney's, his ability is no worse either.
on the 19th June, 2012 at 1:59pm
I really don't know why exactly balotelli is seen to be a vital part of this team tbh. he's only ever scored 2 goals for the azzurri!!!!
I would probably not have even called him up in the 1st place.
I'd also like to know what point there was taking borini if he's not even going to get a 5min run out v the irish?
taking into account call-ups, formation changes & tactics, prandelli has in my opinion made the most baffling choices of any italy manager since arrigo sacchi
on the 19th June, 2012 at 1:14pm

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