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Balotelli back with Italy after four years, ready to be a leader

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TURIN, Italy (AP) — As far as Mario Balotelli is concerned, he doesn’t have to be Italy’s captain to be a role model.

“I’m here to score goals. You can also be a role model without wearing the armband,” Balotelli said at a news conference on Sunday, a day before Italy’s friendly against the Netherlands.

Earlier this week when Balotelli played for Italy for the first time in four years, a banner that read, “My captain is of Italian blood,” was draped on a pitch-side wall during a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in Switzerland.

With Balotelli one of the most experienced players on Italy’s squad, there had been discussion that he might be named captain.

The issue has come to the forefront amid the installation of Italy’s new populist leaders, which includes a staunchly anti-immigrant, right-wing party in its governing coalition.

Balotelli was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants.

“It would be a good signal for African immigrants to represent my country as someone of African origin and captain,” Balotelli said.

“Racism really hurts,” Balotelli added. “It’s time for Italy to become like many other countries — more open — and to start integrating people who come from abroad.”

Balotelli hadn’t played for Italy since the 2014 World Cup.

He said he understands why former Italy coach Antonio Conte didn’t use him — “I wasn’t in great form” — but couldn’t see why Gian Piero Ventura never called him up.

“With Ventura I have no idea. We spoke but I didn’t understand his explanations very much and I was doing well,” Balotelli said. “But he was the coach and so I respect his (decision).”

Ventura was fired in November after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Balotelli played under current Italy coach Roberto Mancini at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.

Mancini announced that Balotelli would not start against the Netherlands, revealing that the attacking line would consist of Simone Verdi, Andrea Belotti and Lorenzo Insigne.

Balotelli scores, then injured in Italy friendly win over Saudi Arabia

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Mario Balotelli‘s long-awaited return to the Italian national team was punctuated with an exclamation mark, but came to an early end as the striker was forced off with an injury.

In Roberto Mancini’s first match in charge of the Italian national team, he brought back the mercurial Nice striker who has turned his club career around. He earned the start in Monday’s friendly against Saudi Arabia, and would you know it, Balotelli scored in his 14th career international goal in his 34th cap.

The 27-year-old put Italy 1-0 up in the 21st minute when he skillfully cut between three defenders and sliced a shot that threaded the needle into the lower left corner.

Unfortunately, things came to an earlier end than expected when he was forced off with a muscular issue in the early stages of the second half.

Still, Balotelli’s return will give hope to Italy fans who have seen their team disappointingly miss the World Cup this summer. Later in the second half, Andrea Belotti scored the winning goal as Italy finished the match 2-1 winners. Gianluigi Donnarumma manned the goal in place of the retired (for now) Gianluigi Buffon.

Mario Balotelli earns first Italy call up since 2014 World Cup

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Mario Balotelli‘s career has been anything but routine, however, the veteran striker has regained his confidence in Ligue 1 and revitalized a career that once looked like it was headed for absolute stardom.

[ MORE: Mourinho’s tactics gift Chelsea FA Cup title ]

The 27-year-old was recalled to Italy’s national team squad on Saturday for the first time since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, courtesy of new Azzurri manager Roberto Mancini.

Mancini and Balotelli has a long-standing relationship, after the two first connected at Inter Milan and then Manchester City.

The Nice striker has re-captured his form in France over the past two seasons, scoring 43 goals in all competitions during that span.

With Italy not qualified for this summer’s World Cup, Mancini and Co. have the opportunity to explore new players, and in Balotelli’s case, revisit old ones.

The Azzurri will take on Saudi Arabia on May 28, before meeting France and the Netherlands on June 1 and June 4, respectively.

French league investigates alleged racist abuse of Balotelli

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has opened an investigation after Nice striker Mario Balotelli complained about racist abuse from fans.

According to a statement on the league’s website, the investigation’s conclusions will be delivered March 15.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho denies Paul Pogba will exit Man United ]

Nice said that Balotelli was shown a yellow card for complaining about the racist abuse he received on Feb. 10 from Dijon supporters, but game referee Nicolas Rainville said he did not hear insults or shouts coming from the stand.

Nice said the Italian forward, who was booked in the 74th minute of a 3-2 away defeat, was cautioned after remonstrating with fans about the abuse.

In January 2017, Balotelli – the son of Ghanaian immigrants to Italy – spoke out against Bastia fans he said made monkey noises during a match. The French league subsequently opened an investigation and Bastia was given a suspended one-point deduction. The Corsican club was also forced to close part of its stadium for three games.

Nice says Balotelli booked for reacting to racist abuse

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NICE, France (AP) French club Nice says striker Mario Balotelli was shown a yellow card for complaining about racist abuse he received from Dijon fans on Saturday.

[ MORE: Neymar nets winner at Toulouse ]

Nice tweeted the Italian forward, who was booked in the 74th minute of a 3-2 away defeat by referee Nicolas Rainville, was cautioned after remonstrating with fans about the abuse. No further details were given.

In comments after the French league game posted on Nice’s official website, Nice coach Lucien Favre and club president Jean-Pierre Riviere were critical of decisions made by Rainville but did not mention Balotelli.

In January 2017, Balotelli – the son of Ghanaian immigrants to Italy – spoke out against Bastia fans he said made monkey noises during a match. The French league subsequently opened an investigation.

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