Italy coach Ven­tura re­mains wary of call­ing up Balotelli

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

De­spite two months of solid play with Nice, Mario Balotelli re­mains ex­cluded from Italy’s na­tional team be­cause of his past his­tory as a di­vi­sive per­son­al­ity both on and off the field.

“It’s not due to tech­ni­cal rea­sons that Balotelli isn’t on the na­tional team,” Italy coach Gian Piero Ven­tura said yes­ter­day. “He has great skills. No­body is de­bat­ing his tech­ni­cal abil­i­ties. Rather it’s a thou­sand other fac­tors.”

Since trans­fer­ring to Nice on dead­line day, Balotelli has scored six goals in six French league ap­pear­ances, help­ing his new club to first place.

“He’s been back in form for two months now but you can’t think that in two months some­body has changed who they are,” Ven­tura added.

Af­ter scor­ing only one league goal in each of the past two sea­sons with Liver­pool and AC Mi­lan, re­spec­tively, Balotelli never played for Italy un­der coach An­to­nio Conte.

His last ap­pear­ance for Italy came when the Az­zurri were elim­i­nated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup - where he was con­sid­ered a dis­trac­tion by sev­eral team­mates.

At 26, though, Balotelli po­ten­tially has many more years as a top player.

Ven­tura said he will have a dis­cus­sion with Balotelli “to see if he has the de­sire to be a leader within the team.”

“There are an­other 2 1/2 months to eval­u­ate,” the coach added, look­ing ahead to a pos­si­ble re­turn in 2017.

Mean­while, for­ward Graziano Pelle also re­mains ex­cluded af­ter re­fus­ing to shake Ven­tura’s hand fol­low­ing a sub­sti­tu­tion dur­ing a 1-1 draw with Spain last month.

“I thought it would be use­ful for him to have a pause to re­flect,” Ven­tura said of Pelle, who trans­ferred from Southamp­ton to Chi­nese club Shan­dong Luneng in July.

As for Se­bas­tian Giovinco, Ven­tura said the high-scor­ing for­ward for MLS club Toronto FC has been left out be­cause he “plays in a league that doesn’t count for much.”

Italy is train­ing for a World Cup qual­i­fier at Liecht­en­stein on Satur­day and a friendly with Ger­many three days later in Mi­lan.

Ven­tura plans to rely on the for­ward tan­dem of An­drea Belotti and Ciro Im­mo­bile - both of whom played un­der him at Torino.

“They’re two play­ers I don’t need to get to know. I know them per­fectly well since I coached them,” Ven­tura said. “They have a chance to take over the na­tional team.”

Im­mo­bile has scored nine goals in 12 matches for Lazio this sea­son, while Belotti has eight in 10 for Torino.

Mean­while, mid­fielder Clau­dio Marchi­sio was sent home Mon­day with an in­jured left leg, two days af­ter be­ing called back to the na­tional team af­ter six months out with a torn cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment, which forced him to miss the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship.

Ata­lanta mid­fielder Roberto Gagliar­dini and Genoa de­fender Ar­mando Izzo were called up as re­place­ments for Marchi­sio.

De­fend­ers Gior­gio Chiellini and An­drea Barza­gli are also out in­jured.

Italy is level on points with Group G leader Spain, one point ahead of Al­ba­nia and Is­rael, while Mace­do­nia and Liecht­en­stein are last with zero points.

Ven­tura wasn’t tak­ing Liecht­en­stein lightly af­ter the small na­tion held Spain to only one goal in the first half of an 8-0 de­feat in Septem­ber.

“It’s a match to pre­pare very care­fully in or­der to avoid sur­prises,” Ven­tura said.

Then Italy will at­tempt to seek some re­venge against World Cup cham­pion Ger­many, which elim­i­nated the Az­zurri in the quar­ter­fi­nals of Euro 2016 in a penalty shootout.

“To be hon­est I would have pre­ferred a dif­fer­ent type of friendly,” Ven­tura said. “We need to get our younger play­ers in con­di­tion step by step. Ger­many is the strong­est and best or­gan­ised team around, so it will be like a grad­u­a­tion exam.”

Mario Balotelli Photo: AP

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