Italy still not sure about Mario Balotelli days before World Cup opener

But enigmatic striker still favoured to start against England in Manaus

Italy manager Cesare Prandelli must choose between Mario Balotelli (left) and Ciro Immobile to lead the Italian front line against England in their opening World Cup game. Photograph: Ettore Ferrari/EPA

Italy manager Cesare Prandelli must choose between Mario Balotelli (left) and Ciro Immobile to lead the Italian front line against England in their opening World Cup game. Photograph: Ettore Ferrari/EPA

Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 22:39

Will he be selected to face England? Will he be on song? Will becoming engaged just three days before the World Cup starts distract Mario Balotelli?

Self-centred, immature, mercurial, maverick, super-talented. Pick your description of the man expected to spearhead Italy’s tilt after firing the Azzurri to the Euro 2012 final.

Of the choice between Balotelli and Ciro Immobile to lead Italy’s line against England on Saturday, Roy Hodgson says: “The headache is [Cesare]Prandelli’s but both will be given maximum respect, they are very good players.”

As Immobile is the far less experienced player, it would be a big surprise if Prandelli opted for him. That there is even a debate offers the latest reminder of the question mark that hovers over the Milan forward.

Doubt continues

A man who has won the Champions League, three Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia, the Premier League and FA Cup at 23 should have answered any questions regarding his right to a starting berth long ago. Yet after an indifferent season, the doubt continues.

Two years ago Balotelli illustrated why he has seduced a host of managers into deciding the off-field antics are worth living with for moments that win games and titles.

Sergio Aguero has gone down as the hero of City’s triumph of that 2011-12 season for his late winner in the 3-2 final day win over QPR. Yet without Balotelli’s pass to Aguero, when the Italian might have taken a shot himself, there would have been no end to City’s 44-year title drought.

Weeks later Balotelli became the first black footballer to represent Italy at a major tournament and, after initially struggling, emerged as a star of Euro 2012.

Lasting 56 minutes of the 1-1 draw with Spain in Italy’s opening match, Balotelli was replaced on 69 minutes in the following game against Croatia. He finally scored in the 2-0 win over the Republic of Ireland as a late substitute.

Do not be surprised to see a similar pattern as Italy’s Group D campaign unfolds.

Prandelli says: “Clearly we have some healthy competition up front. Everyone has a chance. Whoever doesn’t play will have to accept the choices.”

Prandelli has indicated a reluctance to choose Balotelli and Immobile together. So when it comes to deciding who should be the lone forward to face England, Prandelli’s thoughts may turn to how Balotelli took the contest to Germany in the Euro 2012 semi-final.

Scoring twice

In the biggest game of his career Balotelli did not disappoint, scoring twice to blow Joachim Löw’s team away in a 2-1 win.

The tournament ended in disappointment as Spain trounced Italy 4-0 in the final but Balotelli’s pivotal role meant he could claim to have crossed the Rubicon to leave unfulfilled potential and immaturity behind.

Or so it seemed. The following campaign Roberto Mancini finally lost patience with the striker and he was sold. Fast forward a year and the hope for Prandelli is Balotelli’s engagement to Fanny Neguesha, announced on his Instagram, will allow an inner peace he can take into the World Cup.

Balotelli and the World Cup are about to discover if there is to be a mutual love-in, too. Guardian Service

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