AC Milan strikers lead Italy against Netherlands
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP)
Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy had a dream start as AC Milan's new strike force. Now they are looking to take the chemistry to the international level when Italy faces the Netherlands in a friendly in Amsterdam.
Balotelli marked his first match for Milan since his transfer from Manchester City by scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over Udinese on Sunday and he thinks he can work well with El Shaarawy.
El Shaarawy was fouled in the area to set up Balotelli's match-winning injury-time penalty.
''Playing with me could work because I'm quite a generous player,'' Balotelli said about their partnership at Milan. ''He could score a lot and so could I.''
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli also is pleased at Balotelli's return to Italy, if only because it will be easier to keep an eye on the enigmatic striker.
''I am happy for him because I see he is more motivated and happy. And in Milan we can keep a better eye on him, both on and off the pitch,'' Prandelli said. ''Our job as coaches is to find the right chemistry and partners but we have little time ... so it is great that Balotelli and El Shaarawy already play together for their club.''
Prandelli is even ready to adopt the Milan duo's hairstyle if they carry the Azzurri to World Cup victory in Rio next year.
''If we win the World Cup with them, I'll cut my hair into two crests,'' he said.
Wednesday's match at Amsterdam Arena is a chance for Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal to look to the future of the Dutch midfield, with veterans Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart not selected because of a recent lack of playing time.
Instead, rising stars Adam Maher of AZ Alkmaar, Jordy Clasie of Feyenoord and uncapped Jonathan de Guzman of Swansea could feature in an inexperienced midfield.
''I'm interested to see how the new players do,'' Manchester United striker Robin van Persie said.
His long-time rival for the center forward position, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, left the team Tuesday with an eye injury and Van Gaal called up Arjen Robben as a replacement.
De Guzman said his call up was a shock.
''I was just focused on playing a lot for Swansea,'' he said. ''The Netherlands call-up is a bonus. I've only just joined the team, now I have to show what I can do.''
Italy, losing finalist in last year's European Championship, has a strong recent record, with three wins and a draw in World Cup qualifiers, but is looking to snap a six-match losing streak in friendlies.
After a disastrous Euro 2012 where it was eliminated after losing all three group matches, the Netherlands recovered under new coach Van Gaal and won all four of its World Cup qualifiers last year.