Euro 2012: Mario Balotelli deserves the most credit – Gianluigi Buffon
Gianluigi Buffon says Mario Balotelli is "a special talent" and the striker deserves the most credit ahead of the Euro 2012 final
Gianluigi Buffon believes Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli deserves “the most” credit ahead of Italy’s meeting with Spain in Sunday’s Euro 2012 final.
The 21-year-old has endured difficulties at both club and international level in recent months.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli dropped Balotelli in March 2011 over disciplinary issues, while the striker’s sending off at Arsenal earlier this year prompted Roberto Mancini to declare that his compatriot would not play for City again.
However, Balotelli went on to set up the winning goal in their 3-2 victory over Queens Park Rangers which sealed the Premier League title for City – and he has already scored three times at the European championship.
“Mario has done very well thus far,” said Buffon. “He has great natural talent and that is a fantastic starting point for him.
“But he’s also come into a squad where there are a lot of star players, not only on the footballing side but in general.
“In addition, he has been able to work with a coach who, in a number of ways, has managed to get the best out him.
“Mario deserves the most credit because he’s really worked hard and wanted to succeed.”
Meanwhile, the veteran Juventus goalkeeper claimed Italy’s love for the national team is unrivalled, and Prandelli’s 23-man party are desperate to repeat their World Cup triumph in 2006 by beating Spain in Kiev.
“There is something unique in the Italian mentality,” he said.
“Beyond everything that has been said, and the rumours, Italians have a lot of respect and love for the national squad which goes above and beyond anything else.
“We have the opportunity to show just how great our country is. It’s not always easy but we always try and find a way of getting a solid squad.
“There’s a lot of solidarity and we’re thinking along the same lines. That’s our strength.”
Spain v Italy: Pre-match facts
• Spain’s record in 30 games against Italy is W8 D12 L10, but seven of those victories have come in friendly games.
• Spain embarked on a run of 10 straight European championship victories after their last meeting with Italy in the 2008 quarter-finals. They have gone 28 games without defeat in this competition since losing 2-0 in Sweden in a Euro 2008 qualifier in October 2006.
• Spain’s last defeat at the Euros was a 1-0 loss to hosts Portugal in the 2004 group stage that ended their interest in the competition.
• Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is unbeaten in competitive internationals, recording 10 wins and five draws to date, with the shootout triumph over England classed as a draw.