Monday, February 26, 2024

Mario Balotelli returns to Italy: Roberto Mancini sets up Super Mario reunion ahead of UEFA World Cup playoffs

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Mario Balotelli is back. Roberto Mancini called thirty-five players for a three-day trial that will take place at the Coverciano training center from Jan. 26, with Balotelli undoubtedly the most surprising name of his list. 

Balotelli, 31, returns to the national team after a three-year absence from his last callup — a 61-minute outing as a starter against Poland in September 2018. That was Italy’s first match under Mancini in the first-ever edition of the UEFA Nations League. This March, Italy will first face North Macedonia at home in a playoff semifinal in the UEFA qualifiers, with the winner playing away at either Portugal or Turkey for a spot at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Mancini is now desperate to find new solutions to avoid another major disappointment after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. 

The two have always had a special relationship dating back from their days at Inter Milan and then at Manchester City, where they won the Premier League in 2012, with the famous assist of the Italian striker to Sergio Aguero’s late winner against QPR in the last match of that incredible season.

Mancini over the years has always showered Balotelli with praise, even though he is well aware that in recent seasons the level of performance on the pitch of Balotelli has not been enough to be able to get a call to the national team. Now, Balotelli’s sees himself called up by his mentor for the second time since with a golden opportunity in March to lead the World Cup-deprived Azzurri side to their first qualification since Brazil 2014. 

The striker is currently playing for Adana Demirspor in Turkey where he scored nine goals in 21 matches, enough to lift the team into fourth place in the Süper Lig. Prior to that, he was in the Italian second division with Monza and with his homegrown team Brescia. Both experiences in his home country were not positive after his spells at Nice and Marseille. 

Roberto Mancini also called other interesting names for a trial, including Atalanta’s young defender Giorgio Scalvini (18), Sassuolo’s midfielder Davide Frattesi (22) and Cagliari’s Brazilian striker Joao Pedro (29), who in recent months obtained an Italian passport with hopes of finally playing with the Azzurri. 

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