Soccer: Italy rally around Balotelli
Milan forward again at centre of controversy16 October, 17:01
The 23-year-old hit the headlines before Tuesday's 2-2 draw with Armenia for grappling with a TV cameraman who got too close and posting a tweet distancing himself from a role assigned to him as a symbol of the fight against the mafia.
The player, whose career has been dogged by a long series of incidents of indiscipline, responded to his critics by coming off the bench to score the goal that earned the Azzurri a draw against the Armenians in Naples.
"You speak badly about me, I score," Balotelli told reporters after Tuesday's match.
The talented, temperamental player also reportedly exploded when a private flight to take him and his Milan teammates to Italy's business capital was cancelled on Tuesday after the players arrived late. Unlike the other players, who stayed in a Naples hotel, Balotelli got a driver to take him to Rome airport. "Balotelli has gone through some days of clear unease," Prandelli told ANSA.
"We have to rally around him even more. I reiterate that I don't like crusades.
"We all realise that he is irreplaceable if we are going to raise our standards. He has to be integrated even more". Prandelli has said that Italy players' use of social media will be reviewed after the row over Balotelli's controversial tweet, but stressed that it will be banned at next year's World Cup in Brazil.
In the tweet Balotelli denied a press report that he was determined to overcome a cold and thigh strain to play in Naples because he wanted to be a role model against the Naples mafia, the Camorra.
On Monday the Azzurri trained at grounds seized from a club infiltrated by the Camorra.
The comments raised questions about why Balotelli would want to disassociate himself from anti-mafia positions.
In September 2011 Balotelli was called for questioning by prosecutors after a visit he made in 2010 to Scampia, a Naples neighbourhood that is notorious for drug trafficking and other Camorra activities.
Prandelli, meanwhile, was philosophical about the fact that Italy look set to be unseeded at the World Cup after being held 2-2 by Denmark on Friday and Armenia on Tuesday in their last two qualifiers.
The Azzurri will be overtaken by Switzerland, Colombia and Uruguay, who won their games on Tuesday, in the FIFA ranking.
This means Cesare Prandelli's men will probably not be seeded, increasing their chances of being pitched against another top national team in the group stage of next year's tournament.
"The seeding is primarily a question of prestige," Prandelli told ANSA.
"I'm not scared about the risk of meeting Brazil or Spain straight away (in the group stage). "Look at how it went at Euro 2012," added the coach, whose side reached the final of last year's tournament after being drawn in the same group as world and European champions Spain.
"It's almost better like that. If we want to aim high, I prefer humility and concentration".
There is still a slender chance Italy, who were fourth in the rankings before the latest qualifiers, will be seeded, as Uruguay have not yet qualified. The South Americans first have to get through a playoff against Jordan, but it is seen as highly improbable that the Middle Eastern country will prevail. If Uruguay do fail to qualify, FIFA will have to decide whether to seed four-time world champions Italy or the Netherlands - the two teams are set to be tied on 1,136 points after the latest round of international results.
The seeded teams will be hosts Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Belgium, Switzerland, Colombia and, if they qualify, Uruguay.