El Shaarawy, Balotelli forming bond
FLORENCE, Italy (AP)
Stephan El Shaarawy is relishing his partnership with Mario Balotelli and believes they can lead the attack for Italy and AC Milan for many years to come.
El Shaarawy, 20, and Balotelli, 22, have become symbols of Italy coach Cesare Prandelli's focus on youth.
''Mario and I represent a new and young Italy,'' El Shaarawy said, ahead of Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Malta. ''Investing in youth is the most important thing. We're doing well, but we still have margin for improvement to make Italy even stronger.
''I believe it is a turning point for Italian football. There are so many talented Italian footballers in the under-21 side and in Serie B and that gives us good hope for the future.''
El Shaarawy has burst into the spotlight this season with 16 goals in Serie A.
The goals have dried up for the youngster recently, and he has scored only once since Balotelli's arrival from Manchester City at the end of January.
''I don't think Balotelli's arrival has hindered me,'' El Shaarawy said. ''In fact it's made a lot of things easier for me. He is a great player and a good guy who is growing a lot. Playing together in Milan helps us in the national team, Mario and I complete each other.
''I don't feel any pressure on me. The goals will come. Prandelli and (Milan coach Massimiliano) Allegri ask me for good performances first, and then goals. I'm not worried. It's just a moment of tiredness and in the last two months, even if it's not an excuse, I had a few problems with my knee.''
Balotelli scored a stunning goal on Thursday as Italy came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Brazil in a friendly.
The strike took Balotelli's tally to eight goals in eight games for club and country in 2013.
''Mario is really flying,'' El Shaarawy said. ''I'm happy for him because he is growing as a player and as a man. I see him as much more mature and grown up.
''Balotelli is really doing great things, but he can still do so much more. I believe he can become one of the top three or five players in the world.''