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WORLD CUP

Mario Balotelli's World Cup performance largely insufficient 0

By Morris Dalla Costa, The London Free Press

Italy's national soccer player Mario Balotelli attends a training session at the Maria Lamas Farache-Frasqueirao stadium in Natal, June 21, 2014. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai)

Italy's national soccer player Mario Balotelli attends a training session at the Maria Lamas Farache-Frasqueirao stadium in Natal, June 21, 2014. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - 

The fallout from Italy’s disappointing exit at the World Cup was quick.

Manager Cesare Prandelli resigned. The head of the Italian Football Federation, Giancarlo Abete, has resigned as well after asking Prandelli to reconsider his decision.

After Italy’s 1-0 loss to Uruguay, captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon called it a day of “failure,” and then proceeded to chastise the younger players for not wanting to pay the price for success.

Most notably in everyone’s crosshairs is the enigmatic Italian striker Mario Balotelli.

Balotelli is a man of enormous physical talent with dubious strength of character and conviction.

His performance against both Costa Rica and Uruguay was shamefully deficient. When things weren’t going his way, he acted like a petulant child.

Inevitably his inability to control himself led to an unnecessary yellow card against Uruguay forcing Prandelli to remove him at the half. As history has shown us, a second yellow card is usually not long in coming.

“We need real men, not Panini stickers or characters. These are of no use to the national team,” veteran midfielder Daniele De Rossi was quoted as saying after the loss.

Balotelli had filled a Panini album with stickers of himself.

Buffon said there was no hiding who played well and who didn’t.

“On the pitch, you see who shows up. Those that don’t show up, don’t show up,” Buffon said.

After the game, Balotelli was first out of the dressing room, immediately jumping on the bus where he sat by himself for a half hour. He had to be convinced to return to be with the rest of his team.

Whoever will have to deal with Balotelli in the future will be between a rock and a hard place.

He’s a detriment to the national team as often as he is an asset. He is a destroyer of opposing defences but has also been accused of being a destroyer of team chemistry.

He is a lightning rod on the field and on social media.

Wednesday, Balotelli was on Instagram responding to a video from an unidentified man telling Balotelli he was “not really Italian.”

Balotelli was born to Ghananian parents who immigrated to Italy.

“I'm Mario Balotelli. I'm 23 years old and I didn't choose to be Italian,” he wrote. “I wanted it strongly because I was born in ITALY and have always lived in ITALY.”

He accepted some responsibility for Italy’s failures, but not much.

“I cared deeply about this World Cup and I'm sad, angry and disappointed with myself.

“Don't give all the blame to me alone this time because Mario Balotelli has given everything to this Italy team and hasn't made any mistakes (with character issues).”

He went on to say he feels he did everything he could at the tournament.

“Mario Balotelli has a clear conscience and is ready to go forward stronger than ever and with his head held high. Proud of having given everything for his country,” Balotelli said.

He then turned his anger to what he perceived to be the racist portion of the message.

“Or maybe, as you say, I am not Italian. Africans would never dump a 'brother'. NEVER. For this us blacks, as you call us, are light years ahead.

“SHAME is not about who misses a chance or runs a bit more or a bit less. THESE THINGS ARE SHAMEFUL. Real Italians! Really?”

Comments made by veteran players after Italy’s elimination were clearly meant to jolt some of the younger players, and most speculation focuses on Balotelli being the main target.

For Italy, what began as a promising few years under Prandelli ended as they did under Marcello Lippi in South Africa in 2010.

Italy is without a coach and without a direction.

They will have to find new national team cornerstones with Andrea Pirlo, Buffon and De Rossi likely done internationally.

Russia 2018 is going to seem a long time away.

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