Balotelli will have to work twice as hard to play in Euros
ROME (AP) Mario Balotelli was named in the team of the tournament at the last European Championship.
Three goals, including a semi-final brace against Germany secured Italy’s place in the final.
However, the AC Milan forward has been warned that he will have to ”work much harder” if he is to make the squad for the upcoming tournament in France in June.
”I’m going to take note of the group that got us here,” Italy coach Antonio Conte said Monday, two days after the Azzurri qualified with a win in Azerbaijan.
”Whoever wants to join in will have to deserve it twice as much, and will have to work much harder to take the place of those that are here.”
Balotelli, who is on loan at AC Milan after a miserable season at Liverpool, has scored one goal in four appearances in Serie A since his return to the Rossoneri.
Another striker, Giuseppe Rossi also risks being omitted from Conte’s final 23-man squad.
Rossi is gradually returning to full fitness at Fiorentina after more surgery on his troublesome right knee last year.
In the pair’s absence, Conte has taken a liking to Brazilian-born Eder and Graziano Pelle of Southampton, with Stephan El Shaarawy also in the mix.
After scoring just one goal in the Premier League last season, Balotelli scored a majestic free kick against Udinese last month to end a seven-month scoring drought.
The Euros, it should be noted, were the stage on which Balotelli performed best, scoring both goals in Italy’s 2-1 semifinal win over Germany in 2012.
After 15 months without playing an official match, Rossi returned for Fiorentina at the start of this season but has been in and out of the lineup.
”One goal or two matches isn’t enough,” Conte said. ”I want to say it very clearly.”
Italy needs only a draw to clinch first place against second-placed Norway in Group H on Tuesday.
The Azzurri lead the group with 21 points, two ahead of Norway and four in front of Croatia, which visits Malta on Tuesday.
Norway is guaranteed at least a playoff spot, although Croatia holds the tiebreaker with a better head-to-head record.
Conte said he is planning to start his first team, adding that captain Gianluigi Buffon will start in goal.
Italy has problems in midfield, with Andrea Pirlo, Marco Verratti and Marco Parolo unavailable due to injuries.
Norway has not conceded a goal in its last four qualifiers, winning three and drawing one.
”Tomorrow is not going to be a walk in the park. And we want to show everyone that it’s not going to be a walk in the park for Norway, either,” Conte said, correcting himself after mixing up Norway with Denmark.
Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf