Posts Tagged ‘Mario Balotelli’

Israel 1-3 Italy: TurboMario & Abate Send the Azzurrini to Sweden! (U-21 Euro 2009 Playoff for Final Tournament)

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

After their 0-0 draw in Ancona, the Azzurrini needed an exploit… and they delivered. Casiraghi can really be proud of his boys tonight, as Italy’s U-21 team travelled to Tel-Aviv and defeated Israel U-21 with a score of 3-1, courtesy of a Balotelli double and a cherry on the cake by Abate. A really wonderful performance, in which the outcome of the game was never in doubt for a single second, thanks to the immediate “we’re in charge” attitude of the boys in blue (wearing white for the occasion).

And speaking of Balotelli, how ironic that in a day when the Azzurrini were missing important pieces like Dessena, Giovinco, Marchisio and Andreolli, the missing link turned out to a player who, not longer than two months ago, was not even considered eligible. A beast and the indiscussed leader of the Italian team tonight, TurboMario took the Azzurrini by hand and unleashed his goalscoring power, as indeed there is no better word to describe Balotelli’s executions landing into the back of the Israeli net.

Sixteen years after their 1992 triumph, which proclaimed Italy U-21 European Champions for the very first time, the Azzurrini will be returning to Sweden trying to emulate the performance of Cesare Maldini’s boys. Hallå Sverige!


Italy 1-1 Greece: Great Balotelli Display Isn’t Enough for Azzurrini (U-21 Euro 2009 Qualifiers)

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

18 years… Super Mario’s wait was a long one, but it was worth it: not even a month after receiving his official Italian citizenship papers, Balotelli has already conquered Italian hearts. His goal vs. Greece’s U-21 team today was magnificent, but alas was not enough for the Azzurrini to get an automatic bye to the next round. Indeed, Italy’s U-21 will have to wat a few more weeks to earn a ticket to the Euro 2009 finals.

(From Gazzetta): Mario Balotelli’s Azzurr(ini) first (including the proud singing of “L’Inno di Mameli” -Italy’s national anthem) coincided with another important novelty in the Azzurrini: a brand new striking partnership up top, namely TurboMario supported by Sebastian Giovinco and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (Giuseppe Rossi and Robert Acquafresca were injured and unavailable). Much to the contrast of the midfield (Dessena, Cigarini, Marchisio) and defensive (Motta, Bocchetti, Andreolli, Criscito) lines, who had been tested, re-tested, and tested again many times over before. As a result it wasn’t completely a baptism of fire for Pierluigi Casiraghi, although it certainly was for our young Italo-Ghanaian striker.

And speaking of Mario, Balotelli immediately got into the heart of the action very early on: 4 minutes into the game, a good run by Domenico Criscito down the left wing resulted in a good cross to the center, on which Inter’s nº45 applied a confident on-target finish (parried away by the Greek keeper). It was the first glimpse of things to come later on, but alas an isolated glimpse in the Azzurini’s offensive front for much of the first half.

Indeed, the Greek Under-21s had built a fairly solid dam in central midfield, which in turn allowed them to move fairly freely on the sides. The contributing factor was that unlike their Greek opponents, Italy did not establish a firm presence on the wings, in addition to suffering from a severe lack of movement and excess showboating. Casiraghi did his best in trying to reshuffle his cards, constantly asking the 3 forwards to switch positions with one another, but with little results. Greece were defending solidly, and hitting Italy on the counter. In minute 13, the Greeks could have actually capitalized on one of them, but fortunately for the Azzurri Marinos’s shot was wide of the mark.

After eventually managing to get their first shot on target (minute 24, a central effort by Marco Motta easily parried by Kasmeridis), it was finally Mario Balotelli that came to the Azzurrini’s rescue (with some help of the unprepared Greek defense, it must be said). Exploiting an insisted run of Osvaldo on the right wing (and the associated cross), Inter Milan’s forward picked up a poorly headed defensive clearance, waiting for the ball to drop before slamming a powerful right-foot volley into the top corner. Booyah. 1-0 Italy, a score that remained unchanged till the half-time.

Unfortunately in the second half, and much like they had done for large parts of the first, the Azzurrini allowed their opponents to get control of the ball back. Giovinco’s fitness limitations became far too evident (although after a non-stop season like his, Olympics included, that was understandable), and Osvaldo’s selfishness in final third wasn’t helping too much either (on a good number of chances, the Fiorentina striker preferred going for a difficult dribble instead of passing it to a wide-open Balotelli). Eventually Greece’s ball possession paid dividends, when a 54th-minute run by Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (following yet another counter-attack) was finalized by the Greek midfielder with mid-range blast just inside Andrea Consigli’s right post. 1-1.

Casiraghi decided to bring on Morosini and Lanzafame for Cigarini and Osvaldo, but it just wasn’t the Azzurrini’s night. Cruelly lacking ideas, the Italian attacks continually hit against an organized hellenic defense, and even Mario Balotelli’s touches of class (such as his 83rd minute narrowly-wide bicycle kick, after a good Motta cross) could not upset the balance of the game. Italy’s U-21 team remains first in the qualifying group, but will have to wait a little longer before earning their definitive ticket for the Euro 2009 finals.


 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio
[Match Highlights]
 Greece FA (Hellenic Football Federation (HFF) (Greek: Ελληνική Ποδοσφαιρική Ομοσπονδία - (EPO))
GOALSCORERS: 34’ Balotelli (I), 54’ Christodoulopoulos (G).
ITALY (4-3-2-1): Consigli – Motta, Andreolli, Bocchetti, Criscito – Dessena, Cigarini (68’ Morosini), Marchisio (92’ De Ceglie) – Giovinco, Osvaldo (75’ Lanzafame) – Balotelli. (bench: Sirigu, Ranocchia, Candreva, Paolucci). Coach: Casiraghi.
GREECE (4-2-3-1): Kasmeridis – Maniatis, Siontis, Tripotseris, Ioannidis – Balafas, Rika – Marinos, Christodoulopoulos (81’ Pavlis), Dimoutsos (74’ Papadopoulos) – Petropoulos (63’ Mitroglou). (bench: Velidis, Oikonomou, Gentzoglou, Iantsis). Coach: Nioplias.


The New Face of Inter Milan (Gazzetta)

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

In today’s Gazzetta dello Sport, there’s a great article by Antonino Morici that makes a preliminary analysis on José’s Inter, at least based on their first-competitive-match performance in Sunday’s Supercoppa.

It’s still early for season assessments, but given that Gazzetta are generally experts in all things Inter and AC Milan, this one’s a pretty good read:

Gazzetta dello Sport website logo

MILAN, 25 August 2008 – It’s very tempting to give in to the charisma of a boss like Mourinho. Unlike his stints in Portugal and England, José continues to have everyone on his side and deservedly so, because pre-season fixtures and the first “real” match of the year (against an opponent well within Inters’s calibre) have proven him right so far. Even if we are still on the starting blocks, and the competition (beginning with Roma) is very tough, the Italian Super Cup offered the possibility to assess how the “Special One” has been able to get under the skin of Inter Milan, a team that before his term had won 2 league titles, 2 Italian Cups and 2 Super Cups in three years’ time.

MENTALITY - In four years of Roberto Mancini, only in very few occasions did we ever see 3 attacking players on the pitch at the same time. Apart from differences in the line-up however, the main discrepancy seems to be philosophical: Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to be the main reference point, but unlike before when Inter based their strength on physical superiority, eagerly searching for depth with two attackers or trying a vertical play with a trequartista (Stankovic, Jiménez or Figo), the Nerazzurri have now found their centre of gravity on the wings, continuously changing fronts and going deep with their “ball on the ground” style. Against Roma for instance, Inter paid particular attention to seemingly trivial play situations: for example, Figo (not exactly a rookie) would rush along the wing to hinder Riise’s powerful throw-in, giving the impression this was part of a perfectly thought-out plan.

INTENSITY – During the first half, the pace and quality of the nerazzurri were impressive. “We had decided to put pressure on Roma in their first phase (i.e. the start-up) because we knew that it was one of their main strengths” said Mourinho yesterday evening. In fact, Spalletti got very little out of his wingers, who were limited to stay “low” thanks to Figo and especially Mancini (who more than once kept close guard on Cassetti, all the way down to the end line). In the center, two midfield dams: the first formed by Sulley Muntari and Javier Zanetti, the other by Dejan Stankovic (reborn in the role of “back” playmaker in front of the defence, and very accurate with his passes). With the spaces closed, Inter could highlight the individual skills of their players: the right-wing line (Maicon-Figo) worked very efficiently with Ibrahimovic (creating three scoring chances in the first 30 mins), much to the delight of the ex-Barcelona and Real Madrid player, finally back to his natural winger position.

BALOTELLI – Finally, extra time simply highlighted what can be expected of someone like Balotelli over the next few years. At 18 years of age and with a serious possibility of playing many matches in José’s attacking trio, Mario has shown to be fully deserving of the trust placed into him by Mourinho, exhibiting quality with free-kicks, moving passes through the lines (which led to the 2-1 goal), the personality shown when facing opponents like Mexès and Juan, or his cool finishing inside the box. We get the strong feeling we are about to see a real phenomenon in action, one who (assuming he resists the instinct of giving in to nerves) might make his Azzurro dream come true much earlier than anticipated.

SUPERCOPPA ITALIANA 2008: Penalty Kicks Give INTER & JOSÉ First Trophy of the Season

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Ladies & gentlemen, the new Serie A season has been launched! Yes, Day 1 only begins on August 31 “officially”, but Sunday night’s Supercoppa appetizer provided enough excitement and entertainment, it almost looks like we’re in it already.

Indeed, the traditional pre-season clash between Scudetto champions and Coppa Italia winners resulted in 4 goals and 120 minutes of very intense battling, where the psychological boost from a win is every bit as important as the silverware. In the end, Inter triumphed over Roma on penalty kicks, the determining shots being made by the two team captains: where Francesco Totti had failed Javier Zanetti succeeded, giving the Nerazzurri the fourth Supercoppa title of their history.

(From Gazzetta): Compared to “ancient” history, the two Serie A dominators of the past 3 years are looking a lot more alike. Tactics-wise firstly (with two wingers dropping back all the way to the goal line, if necessary), and also because of that midfield “pivot” dynamo (Pizarro on one side, Stankovic on the other). Inter however are the team who experienced the biggest changes, at least concerning the playing mentality, and in that sense appeared more motivated. The only two Summer transfers, Sulley Muntari and Amantino Mancini, were immediately fielded in the starting eleven, while veteran Esteban Cambiasso was forced in an increasingly more-frequent center-back role, in order to patch up the missing links of the Inter roster (this seemed like an explicit message to Nelson Rivas, kinda like José’s saying: “sorry, but you’re second choice buddy”).

On the other end, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti preferred Mirko Vucinic (over new signing Julio Baptista) as the lone striker, reverting “The Beast” on the outside wing instead. The ex-Real Madrid player was virtually absent from the match’s first half, but made important progress in the second (especially after the entrance of Francesco Totti, kept on the bench as a precautionary measure).

Much like “The Beast” however, Roma midfield anchors Daniele De Rossi and Alberto Aquilani were having a tough time in the first 45 minutes, pushed back by the Mourinho-dictated Nerazzurri plan (dividing the field in sections, and attacking first on one side then on the other). Dejan Stankovic notably, seemed a shadow of his former past-two-years self (and that’s a good thing!), providing with a certain Luis Figo (finally back to his true winger role) the main passing/crossing service for Inter, supported as always by the genius of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

In minute 18 the Inter battleship sank its first target, courtesy of Sulley Muntari: the ex-Udinese and Portsmouth midfielder initiated a beautiful one-touch Nerazzurri play (leading to a powerful Maicon shot deflected onto the crossbar by Mexès) and gave his team the lead with a rippling left-footed effort. 1-0 Inter, a scoreline which was left unchanged all the way to the half.

After the break, it seemed that Mourinho’s boys could easily control the proceedings until the full-time whistle: Javier Zanetti stung the fingers of Doni from long-range, while based on the quality of his touches/passing, Ibrahimovic’s knee problems seemed a thing of the past. However, and much against the run of play, 2007-Supercoppa-main-man Daniele De Rossi decided to crash the Nerazzurri party: his swerving 25m effort overpowered Julio Cesar, and finally put the teams level. 1-1.

After the equalizer, it seemed as if the game had turned on its head. It was now the Giallorossi attacking and pushing Inter back, something that a guy named José was not enjoying one tiny bit: replacing Figo and Mancini with Balotelli and Jiménez, Mourinho decided to bring balance back to his midfield line, and it worked. The young Italo-Ghanain striker notably (playing his first official match as an Italian citizen) was being pins & needles in the Roma defense, forcing first Cassetti then Doni to two important clearances close to goal (the provider for those two chances? Ibrahimovic, who else). In minute 83 however there was little the Roma keeper could do, when TurboMario got in behind the Giallorossi defense (Mexès a bit at fault here) and beat Doni with a chipped effort inside the left post. 2-1 Inter.

Game over? Not in the least, especially with a team as determined as Roma. In minute 90, a David Pizarro corner was deflected by Mirko Vucinic, bouncing on its way to the top-left corner off Stankovic and Zlatan. Little Julio Cesar could do, 2-2, and match forced into overtime.

Meanwhile, Francesco Totti and Stefano Okaka had replaced Perrotta and Aquilani, while Nelson Rivas had come on for the injured Nicolas Burdisso (just before the Roma equalizer in fact), so needless to say that with the “fresh meat” a different kind of match began here. The Roma captain notably gave glimpses of his genius, with one-time long-range through balls (one of which was shamelessly wasted by Okaka), but it became rapidly obvious that Totti was still miles away from optimum form. Much unlike a certain Mario Balotelli, who in two separate free-kick occasions (a venemous curling long-range effort with a very tight angle notably) sent shivers down the spine of Roma supporters.

Just before the inevitable shoot-out lottery, the Giallorossi had one final chance to score through Okaka, but Julio Cesar deftly neutralized the through-on-goal Roma youngster. It was then time for the Totti-drama, as the Roma captain (who had the chance to win the game, after Stankovic’s mistake) sent his shot onto the crossbar, giving rival captain Javier Zanetti the opportunity to strike back. Indeed, after Julio Cesar had saved Juan’s kick, the Argentine midfielder sent an angled shot past Doni, allowing José Mourinho to grab the first official trophy of his Inter career.

Whoever said Italian football wasn’t exciting? :mrgreen:


F.C. Internazionale Milano INTER-ROMA
2-2 (8-7 p.s.o.)
[Match Highlights]
A.S. Roma
GOALSCORERS: 18’ Muntari (I), 59’ De Rossi (R), 83’ Balotelli (I), 90’ Vucinic (R)
PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Vucinic (R) goal, Ibrahimovic (I) goal, J.Baptista (R) goal, Balotelli (I) goal, Cassetti (R) goal, Stankovic (I) crossbar, De Rossi (R) goal, Maxwell (R) goal, Totti (R) crossbar, Cambiasso (I) goal, D.Pizarro (R) goal, Jiménez (I) goal, Juan (R) saved, J.Zanetti (I) goal.
INTER (4-3-3): Julio Cesar – Maicon, Burdisso (90’ Rivas), Cambiasso, Maxwell – J.Zanetti, Stankovic, Muntari – Figo (66’ Balotelli), Ibrahimovic, Mançini (70’ Jiménez). (bench: Toldo, Pelé, Crespo, Cruz). Coach: Mourinho.
ROMA (4-3-2-1): Doni – Cassetti, Mexès, Juan, Riise (78’ Tonetto) – De Rossi, D.Pizarro, Aquilani (90’ Okaka) – Perrotta (85’ Totti), J.Baptista – Vucinic. (bench: Artur, Panucci, Loria, Brighi). Coach: Spalletti.


Mario Balotelli’s Eco-Friendly Holiday

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Holidays are a rare commodity for soccer players. In terms of time at the very least, because with seasons ending late May, Summer championships and/or club teams’ exotic tours extending into June, and pre-season training camps starting mid-July, athletes usually have no more than 2-3 weeks in order to don some flip flops and stroll down to the beach (thereby making the fortune of paparazzis and their holiday snapshots). Not that they won’t have plenty of time later in life, when they retire at age 34 with multimillion dollar bank accounts, but I digress…

Anyways, because it’s such a rare commodity (and because they can afford it), soccer stars usually aim quite high when choosing their holiday destinations, opting for super-luxurious resorts or trendy hot spots (like Formentera and Porto Cervo for Serie A players). Predictable and boring, right? Mario Balotelli on the other hand had more exciting plans this Summer. Kudos to him.

[Source: Gazzetta dello Sport (paper edition), July 14, 2008, article by Massimo Arcidiacono. Also available online (in Italian) here]

While his Inter teammates and Serie A colleagues travelled to Formentera and Porto Cervo, “Turbo” Mario Balotelli followed his heart and… WWF. Nope, not the wrestling federation (which changed their name to WWE, to avoid any confusion with the other one), but the actual World Wildlife Fund. Destination Sicily and more specifically the “Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro“, a natural park reserve that also turns into an adventure camp. For Mario, that meant 10 days of excursions into nature and deep sea diving, an experience which the young Inter striker already tested the previous year, with excellent memories.

I liked the idea of spending a vacation out of the ordinary, with boys and girls my age” explains Balotelli. “I went with the WWF last year and enjoyed it a lot, so together with a few friends I met last year we decided to repeat the experience“. The groups are composed by two supervisors and 15-17 year-old kids, “united by their passion of nature and thirst of adventure” says Fabrizio Giacalone, manager of the WWF camps in Sicily. “Mario? He’s just a normal kid, like all the others“. A “normal kid” indeed, although the defenders of Atalanta, Siena, or Fiorentina will surely have a very different opinion. Gazzetta interviewed the young Italo-Ghanaian striker at his return from camp.

Soccer players usually go to Costa Smeralda during the Summer. Mario, your choice went countercurrent to usual trends.
It’s an experience I recommend to all young people my age. I don’t really care what other players are doing, I am Mario and Mario makes his own choices. Countercurrent you say? Probably because the trend is to go places where all other VIPs go, but I would rather stay away from the masses. I prefer uncontaminated, “wild” locations: it’s better to have peace and quiet when you’re holiday, and perhaps have experience something different once in a while. Besides, you’re talking to someone who’s been in the junior scouts when he was little: we played, we learned to respect nature and people, to live in a group and without too many material things. Just like the WWF camp: we couldn’t drink Coke or iced tea when we were there, just water. We carried a bottle in our backpacks which we refilled every time. Plus we couldn’t use TV, playstation, or cell phones.

Did you go with your girlfriend?
No, I went alone. There was a “special” girl there though, but that’s all I’m gonna say.

Ok you’re right, let’s talk about other things. You went to Sicily: what has this land, so full of contradictions, left you with?
It left me with its colors. Blue from the sky and the sea, yellow and green from the vegetation. Also the strong tastes of Sicilian dishes, like walnut granitas, cassatelles and cannolis… mmmmh those are good! And I’ll never forget the night dip in the warm water of Segesta. So warm in fact that I stayed inside for nearly an hour and almost felt sick when I got out. Plus the dives from the tall and rocky coastline, which almost felt easier than going for a walk under the midnoon sun at the “Zingaro”.

We were informed that when it was time to come back, you cancelled your flight home and returned by train with all the other kids. The naturalist experience really left its mark on you huh?
That’s true, I came back by train with the rest of the group. You have to live certain experiences to their fullest, all together. At first you might be a little shy, but after the team acclimatization period (just like in a soccer team) it’s great. And you enjoy it even more after that.

In a month’s time (August 12) you’ll finally be an adult. When you get your driver’s license, will you buy a nice SUV just like the other players and say “Take that, WWF!”?
I don’t know any SUVs, in Sicily I was only a sub (note: in Italian, SUV is pronounced Suv, and sub means scuba-diver).

Good one, 1-0 for Mario. By the way, do you confirm that you’ll choose Italian nationality? You didn’t receive a phone call from Casiraghi or Mourinho while you were in Sicily, by any chance?
I waited for August 12 this Summer for years. I will get Italian nationality because I AM Italian. Italy is the country where I was born, where I studied and where I learned to play soccer. The language I speak is Italian and my family is Italian. It’s only because of a stupid law I was forced to live 18 years as a foreigner in my own country. And no, I did not receive any phone calls while I was in Sicily.

I guess they really did take their cell phones… :)