Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has moved to quash recent media reports suggesting Mario Balotelli should miss the World Cup by giving the misfiring striker his full backing.
Italy striker Balotelli has shown only glimpses of his potential in what has been a frustrating season with AC Milan and was substituted by coach Clarence Seedorf in a disappointing, and at times petulant, display in a 2-0 defeat to Roma last week.
Following the match Balotelli had a spat with a television commentator – leading to suggestions across Italy’s sports press last week that he could be a liability in Brazil.
Although Prandelli admitted Balotelli can have his ups and downs, the Azzurri coach indicated that the 23-year-old was virtually untouchable when it came to the national squad.
“I won’t tolerate any selfish players. Whoever has only his own interests at heart will stay at home. I want internal competition and no one is guaranteed a place,” Prandelli said in an interview with Corriere della Sera.
Asked about Balotelli, he added: “Sometimes Mario can blunder, but I’m not leaving him at home. Mario has scored 14 times for Italy and you can’t ignore that.”
Question marks have also been raised about Balotelli’s use to Italy given the emergence of Serie A’s top scorer, Ciro Immobile of Torino, and Mattia Destro of Roma, both of whom have battled their way into contention for a place in Prandelli’s final 23-man squad.
Giuseppe Rossi, who had scored a league-leading 14 goals in 18 games for Fiorentina before succumbing to injury in January, is almost guaranteed a place in Prandelli’s plans – if he can recover fitness in time.
On Rossi, Prandelli added: “We’re still waiting. He’s an exceptional lad, but time is pressing.”
Balotelli’s recent spat on live television with Sky Sport Italia pundits did not, meanwhile, faze Italian football federation president Giancarlo Abete.
“I have absolute faith in Cesare Prandelli, even during what is obviously a difficult moment for the player (Balotelli),” Abete told Gazzetta dello Sport.