Italy and AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli says he owes his increased popularity in Italy to the national team.
Balotelli left Italy under a cloud in 2010 following a turbulent time at Inter Milan. However, he established himself as a key player in the national side during last summer's European Championship, notably by scoring both goals in the 2-1 semifinal victory over Germany.
''Many people like me, but not everybody,'' Balotelli said on Sunday ahead of Italy's World Cup qualifier against Malta. ''After Euro 2012 I noted that my popularity increased. Thanks to the Italy squad, now fans of other clubs are starting to like me too. I can see from the way they act around me.
''The Nazionale has something special, something more. I can't explain it, it's above all else.''
Not all fans are happy with Balotelli, however, and the forward was subject to racist abuse from his former fans in the Milan derby last month.
''Racism makes me annoyed, angry and disappointed,'' Balotelli sai...