Thursday June 21 2012
Mancini: Balotelli has to play

Mario Balotelli should return to Italy's starting line-up for the game against England, according to his Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini.

Super Mario began the Azzurri's first two games at Euro 2012, but was dropped against the Republic of Ireland on Monday, subsequently stepping off the bench to score a stunning overhead kick.

A debate has ensued surrounding the 21-year-old and whether he should start in Sunday's quarter-final against England in Kiev.

Mancini, who has worked with Balotelli in Milan and Manchester and is something of a father figure to him, has expressed his faith in the unpredictable young striker.

“Balotelli must always play,” comments Mancio in today's Gazzetta dello Sport. “With him the national team is much stronger. Look at the other night. He came on, he gave the side a jolt and also scored a splendid goal.

“I don’t want to do Prandelli’s job given that he is working well, but I consider Mario to be the best Italian attacker.

“Antonio Cassano is a second striker, while Antonio Di Natale is good but has different characteristics to Balotelli.

“Mario is a champion and champions help you to win things.”

Even if Balotelli plays this weekend, Mancini expects England to be a tough team to break down for the Azzurri.

“The English have to thank Fabio Capello,” added the man who led Balotelli and his City teammates to the Premier League title in May.

“I don’t want to be the public defendant for an Italian colleague, but that is the simple truth. You  can see the work of a good and expert Coach like Capello in this team.

“England are a well organised side who know what they want. Boss Roy Hodgson is an Italian Englishman. He’s intelligent, good and crafty – the right man to continue Capello’s work.”

Although England won their group, their cautious approach has been criticised as a footballing spectacle.

“They wait for their opponents and hit them on the counter,” Mancio added. “It’s the kind of football that us Italians were masters at for a long time.

“They have understood that winning is what matters at tournaments and Hodgson has always been a pragmatic Coach.

“Italy will have to be aware of them on the break, but also make the most of their own characteristics – technique, velocity, balls to feet. It would be an error to take on England with muscle and high balls.”

Should Mario Balotelli play against England?