Balotelli to return to Italy for Denmark qualifier

Associated Press
10/15/2012 2:50:38 PM
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MILAN, Italy -- Mario Balotelli is poised to return to Italy's attack for the first time since his standout European Championship performance when the Azzurri host Denmark on Tuesday.

The World Cup qualifier should also mark Balotelli's first match in the San Siro stadium since leaving Inter Milan for Manchester City after the 2009-10 season.

Known for his wild behaviour, Balotelli has clashed with City manager Roberto Mancini this season. The striker was mobbed by fans upon Italy's arrival by train in Milan on Monday.

"I don't have to tell him anything besides the tactical job we want him to handle," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said Monday.

The joint leading scorer at Euro 2012, Balotelli missed qualifiers against Bulgaria and Malta last month after undergoing laser eye surgery, then also sat out Italy's 3-1 win in Armenia on Friday due to a fever. But he's feeling better now.

Balotelli was included in the starting lineup that Prandelli had announced the day before facing Armenia, but then was removed on the morning of the match.

"After the fever, Balotelli has trained harder than I could have hoped," Prandelli said. "He's ready."

A bigger worry now for Italy is that goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has a left leg muscle problem and sat out training Monday.

If Buffon can't play, Napoli 'keeper Morgan De Sanctis will likely start, and with Buffon's Juventus set to face De Sanctis' Napoli on Sunday in a matchup of the Serie A co-leaders, the status of the two players is in the spotlight. Some critics are even questioning Buffon's injury.

"Buffon has taken care of himself and he wants to play," Prandelli said.

Italy leads Group B with seven points, two ahead of Bulgaria. Denmark, which drew 1-1 at 10-man Bulgaria on Friday, is next to bottom with two points.

"If we beat Denmark we'll have control of the group," midfielder Riccardo Montolivo said. "We won't be qualified yet but we'll be in good shape."

However, Denmark has given Italy trouble in their last two meetings.

In qualifying for Euro 2000, Denmark beat Italy 3-2 in Naples. After a 0-0 draw at the 2004 European Championship marred by Francesco Totti spitting at Christian Poulsen, Italy's players complained that their socks were too warm. Italy also suspected that the 2-2 draw between Denmark and Sweden in the 2004 group closer was pre-arranged, as that was the exact score needed to eliminate the Azzurri.

"It's an opponent that has always created problems for us," Prandelli said. "They're not out of it yet. This group is very balanced."

Nicklas Bendtner equalized for Denmark in a 1-1 draw at 10-man Bulgaria on Friday, despite having played only 13 minutes for Juventus since signing with the Italian champion in August.

"Considering how hard (manager Antonio) Conte had made me work, I could play 90 minutes three times a week," Bendtner said.

Denmark defender Simon Kjaer also played in Serie A recently for Palermo and Roma, before returning to Wolfsburg for this season.

"It's going to be a difficult match, against a great squad with a lot of champions, but we've always had good matches against great squads," Kjaer said.

In attack, Balotelli will likely pair with Roma's Pablo Osvaldo.

In Italy's defence, Giorgio Chiellini could replace Leonardo Bonucci after sitting out against Armenia, while Ignazio Abate and Federico Balzaretti could replace Christian Maggio and Domenico Criscito as fullbacks. Maggio's wife gave birth to the couple's first child Monday and he left the team temporarily as a result.

Despite the victory, Italy was sharply criticized for its laborious performance against Armenia.

Pirlo fired Italy ahead in the 11th minute with a penalty, but Armenia levelled in the 28th and Italy didn't take the lead again until shortly after the hour mark with a header from Daniele De Rossi. Osvaldo then sealed the result with his third goal in as many qualifiers.

"We thought we played a solid match and the feeling in the changing room showed that," Prandelli said. "But reading the newspapers we see a different view."

Mario Balotelli (Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)


(Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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