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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.

Balotelli reportedly gets first Italy recall since 2014 World Cup

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Mario Balotelli is back in the frame for Italy as interim coach Luigi Di Biagio will reportedly recall the big striker to the national team.

Football Italia says Balotelli, 27, will have the chance to wear the blue of his national team when the side faces Argentina and England next month.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 27 ]

A 13-goal scorer in 17 league matches for Nice, Balotelli has five more goals between Champions League and Europa League matches plus a cup goal to give him 19 in 25.

Balotelli has 13 goals in 33 caps, but his mercurial nature has stopped him from earning a cap since the 2014 World Cup ended with a 1-0 group stage loss to Uruguay.

He’s tied for sixth in Ligue 1 when it comes to goals, level with ex-Newcastle man Florian Thauvin and behind Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Falcao, Nabil Fekir, and Mariano, and is also among the Ligue 1 leaders in shots and yellow cards.

Unfortunately, any continued growth will likely not lead to another World Cup with Italy having missed its chance for Russia 2018.

Europa League preview: Everton hosts Cypriots; Arsenal in Belarus

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The two Premier League clubs currently in this season’s Europa League could hardly have found more differing stars to life in the UEL.

Everton was thumped 3-0 by Atalanta, an embarrassing set back albeit a surmountable one, while Arsenal overcame an early scare to cruise past noisy visiting Koln 3-1.

[ MORE: Mourinho on CSKA Moscow blowout ]

The Toffees have a good match for a club trying to get off the mat, with Apollon Limassol visiting, but will be without center backs Phil Jagielka and Michael Keane.

Arsenal should be able to build on its win when it visits BATE Borisov.

Other intriguing matches see AC Milan hosting Rijeka, and Villarreal taking a rare trip to Israel for a match with Maccabi Tel-Aviv.

Don’t sleep on USMNT center back Matt Miazga and Vitesse, as the young Yank looks to help hold Mario Balotelli off the score sheet. In the last four Nice matches, no one has been able to do that.

Not so sleepy: Lyon vs. Atalanta, as two clubs quite capable of fireworks meet in France.

Full schedule

11 a.m. ET kickoff
Astana vs. Slavia Prague

1 p.m. ET kickoff
Lazio vs. Zulte Waregem
Zenit vs. Real Sociedad
Ostersund vs. Hertha Berlin
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Marseille
Koln vs. Red Star Belgrade
Rosenborg vs. Vardar
Konyaspor vs. Vitoria
Athletic Bilbao vs. Zorya Luhansk
BATE Borisov vs. Arsenal
Lugano vs. Steaua Bucuresti
Plzen vs. Hapoel Beer-Sheva
Nice vs. Vitesse

3:05 p.m. ET kickoffs
Sheriff vs. Copenhagen
Braga vs. Istanbul Basaksehir
Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Zlin
Lyon vs. Atalanta
Skenderbeu vs. Young Boys
Everton vs. Apollon Limassol
Partizan vs. Dynamo Kyiv
AEK vs. Austria Wien
AC Milan vs. Rijeka
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Villarreal
Ludogorets vs. Hoffenheim