Is SuperMario still the future of la Nazionale?

So Italy qualify for Euro 2012 with games to spare and seemingly plenty left in the tank. 1-0 wins against the Faroe Islands and Slovenia got the job done almost without breaking a sweat but, despite only appearing briefly at the end of both games, a good deal of headlines were once again stolen by Mario Balotelli.
The forward was in the firing line after the Faroe Islands game as doubts were once again raised over his attitude. Having reportedly irked Cesare Prandelli by bringing his iPad to the bench rather than concentrating on the match, Balotelli then further angered the Coach with his warm up and the subsequent performance in which he was fairly anonymous.
However, the SuperMario will receive nothing but praise for his display against Slovenia. He looked lively coming off the bench for the last 15 minutes, played a part in the winning goal and generally injected la Nazionale with a shot of energy, pace and invention conspicuously absent before his introduction.
Questions will inevitably be asked about how Prandelli can rely on a player prone to blowing hot and cold to such extremes and even whether there is a place in the national set up for Balotelli at all.
Despite his unpredictability, Balotelli is one of the brightest talents to emerge from Italy in the last decade. He is a striker unlike any of his contemporaries, at once powerful, quick and technically gifted. His physicality coupled with his ability on the ball, close control and finishing set him apart from any other forward currently available to la Nazionale and, because of this, his future seems secure.
While Prandelli is currently experimenting, with some success, with a partnership of Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi, the presence of Balotelli waiting in the wings provides the manager with an intriguing plan B. While Cassano and Rossi are both technically gifted, neither possesses the kind of explosive power or aerial ability Balotelli can offer. This means, should plan A fail, Prandelli is not limited to one system and can throw Balotelli into the fray to give his side a spearhead in attack.
Prandelli’s continued use of attacking fullbacks also advocates Balotelli’s inclusion in the side. The likes of Federico Balzaretti and Mattia Cassani excel at delivering quality crosses into the box and this is the type of service on which Balotelli can thrive. Despite a number of good balls into dangerous areas against Slovenia, the only real target in the opposition box was Daniele De Rossi until the second half introductions of Giampaolo Pazzini and Balotelli. It was the mere presence of Balotelli in the box that allowed the ball to drop for Pazzini to score the goal to sent Italy into next summer’s showpiece.
It seems, then, Balotelli’s place in the national squad is secure. Although his antics are often nothing short of stupid, he is an undeniably gifted player and one who could contribute a great deal to Prandelli’s Italy in the coming years.

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