/ Euro 2012

Italy skipper Gianluigi Buffon say Mario Balotelli deserves the most credit

Updated: Sunday, 01 Jul 2012 10:05 | Comments

Italy need one more big performance from Mario Balotelli
Italy need one more big performance from Mario Balotelli

Italy skipper Gianluigi Buffon has praised controversial striker Mario Balotelli for his willingness to work for the Italian cause at Euro 2012.

The Manchester City forward was dropped by coach Cesare Prandelli for disciplinary reasons in March 2011 and, judging by that woeful tackle on Arsenal's Alex Song at the Emirates Stadium 13 months later, it seemed not much had changed in the intervening time.

For some reason though, Balotelli has been the model of good behaviour during his time in Poland and Ukraine.

The 21-year-old has certainly flourished and his brace in Thursday night's semi-final victory over Germany has put him in pole position to claim the coveted Golden Boot, in addition to sending Italy into tomnight's final with holders Spain.

Now Italy need one more big performance from Balotelli.

"Mario has done very well thus far," said Buffon.

"He has great natural talent and that is a fantastic starting point for him.

"But he's also come into a squad where there are a lot of star players, not only on the footballing side but in general.

"In addition, he has been able to work with a coach who, in a number of ways, has managed to get the best out him.

"Mario deserves the most credit because he's really worked hard and wanted to succeed."

Although there have been suggestions Balotelli might be left out tonight, it would be a pretty tough call given his contribution to the victory in Warsaw.

Yet again, after leaving behind a domestic competition mired in scandal, Italy have emerged as a unified force.

It happened in 1982 and 2006, with Italy winning the World Cup on both occasions.

And Buffon does not feel there is any coincidence.

"There is something unique in the Italian mentality," he said.

"Beyond everything that has been said, and the rumours, Italians have a lot of respect and love for the national squad which goes above and beyond anything else.

"We have the opportunity to show just how great our country is.

"It's not always easy but we always try and find a way of getting a solid squad.

"There's a lot of solidarity and we're thinking along the same lines. That's our strength."

Italy President Giorgio Napolitano has sent a good look message through Prandelli, which was read out to the squad after training this evening.

In addition, Napolitano has invited the players to a civic reception in Rome on Monday whether they win or lose.

"I've read the letter," said Prandelli.

"These are fantastic words. He's conveyed the idea of team spirit, determination and generosity.

"That is what he wants us to convey to the country.

"I am very proud. I hope we can live up to his expectations."

Italy go into the game with the backing of many neutrals, who have warmed to their enterprising style of play.

The defensive 'catenaccio' philosophy of old has been dumped in favour of an open approach, in which potential player of the tournament Andrea Pirlo has played such a significant role.

Italy have already met Spain once in this competition, in their first group outing in Gdansk, which finished level.

Yet Prandelli feels it is the reigning world and European champions who start favourites due to their amazing recent record.

And he scoffs at those who believe Spain have evolved into a boring side.

"Spain are the best side in the world," he said.

"They've shown that in the last few years by playing their own way and staying true to their footballing philosophy.

"We've always said they are the side to beat.

"It's not a case of them being boring.

"It's a fear of seeing the same side always winning and Spain always seem to come out on top.

"They are not boring in any shape or form."

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