Posted June 18, 2013 on AP on Fox
PLAYERS: Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli is so unpredictable that even his coach has trouble keeping tabs on the prized Italy striker. Balotelli's winning goal in the Azzurri's 2-1 win over Mexico at the Confederations Cup was a prime example. The goal showed off Balotelli's combination of brute strength and sheer athleticism. But the AC Milan striker immediately took away some of the moment's luster by stripping off his shirt, earning a yellow card. If Balotelli picks up another yellow in Wednesday's match against Japan, he'll have to sit out the Group A finale against host Brazil. ''Talking about Mario is always tough because you never know what he's going to do from one moment to the next,'' Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said Tuesday. Balotelli's unpredictability could be related to the immense pressure he plays under. Born to Ghanaian immigrants and raised by Italian foster parents, he is forced to deal with racist chanting in virtually every match in the Serie A. Still, since his return to Italy in January following 2 1/2 years of up and down performances at Manchester City, Balotelli has been virtually unstoppable. He scored 12 goals in 13 appearances with Milan over the second half of the season and has four goals for Italy so far this year - including a spectacular effort from long-distance in a friendly vs. Brazil in March. His potential was already evident at last year's European Championship, when he tied for the tournament lead with three goals, and scored twice in Italy's 2-1 win over Germany in the semifinals. And he's still just 22. ''He has huge potential,'' Prandelli said. ''Being on this squad has helped him grow. We've been talking for years about how extraordinarily talented he is, now we just need to create the right environment for him to succeed in.'' Balotelli is the poster boy for Italy's growing waves of immigrants, and even more so for the sons of immigrants, many of whom cannot obtain Italian citizenship until they turn 18, even if they are born in Italy - as was the case with Balotelli. Prandelli has said repeatedly that if racist chants are ever directed at Balotelli again with the national team that the entire squad will rush over and embrace him in a show of solidarity. ''We're very attentive to this issue,'' Prandelli said. ''Mario can be an example.'' However, Prandelli also wants Balotelli to improve his behavior on and off the pitch. It will be interesting to see how long Balotelli plays against Japan with the prospect of a suspension if he gets a yellow card. Earlier this month, Balotelli picked up two yellows in a World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic, and he was banned for two matches with Milan after insulting a match official at the end of a game in April. ''I could make two, three or four lineup changes,'' Prandelli said. ''We spent a lot against Mexico and I need to see this last training session to see who is fresh.''

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