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Balotelli playing for 'special' ending
Posted Saturday, June 30, 2012 by ESPNSTAR.com

Balotelli playing for 'special' ending

Mario Balotelli will aim to round off the perfect year by firing Italy to Euro 2012 glory in Kiev on Sunday.

The charismatic striker has already played a significant role in securing Manchester City's first league title in 44 years, setting up the last-gasp goal for Sergio Aguero against QPR that snatched the trophy from Manchester United's grasp.

Now he is having the same impact for Italy.

Balotelli's semi-final double against Germany in Warsaw not only confirmed Italy's place in the final against Spain, it has also taken him into the group on three goals currently leading the Golden Boot standings, and he is the only one of them who can add to his tally.

Little wonder the 21-year-old took the rare step of stopping to speak immediately after the game.

And his words seemed to underline the surprising maturity he has shown throughout the competition, a volte-face from moody Mario to magnificent Mario.

"We won the league at Manchester City so having a good season for me doesn't depend on winning the Euros," he said.

"If we don't win it, it wouldn't spoil the other things but it would be special."

Throughout all the controversy that has raged around Balotelli this season, City boss Roberto Mancini insisted he was worth the effort.

Mancini has been left exasperated and amused in equal measure by his Inter Milan protege's antics.

Since Balotelli's arrival at Italy's Krakow base though, Balotelli has been calmness personified.

There has been the occasional trace of odd behaviour. He continues to stride around wearing his massive headphones, seemingly oblivious to those around him, when Italy do their pre-match walkabout.

And after shunning the media throughout the competition, he demanded a platform to speak ahead of that quarter-final with England, declaring: "I'm more of a man than Peter Pan," to the amusement of those present.

Largely though, Balotelli's focus on Italy's quest to become European champions has been total.

And should the Azzurri triumph at the weekend, he will have winners' medals in a major international tournament, in addition to the Champions League, titles in England and Italy, plus the FA Cup.

Not bad for someone who is still regarded as a joke player by his critics.

"I am really happy at the moment and on Sunday I hope I will be even happier," he said.

"We are in the final. We are one of the two best teams in the tournament. We have to go there and play to win."

Not even the prospect of that famed Golden Boot is diverting Balotelli from the overall task of helping Italy continue this remarkable trend, from 1982 and 2006, of winning a major prize as their club game is engulfed in scandal.

"If we win and I score, it will be amazing," he said.

"If I don't score and we win it will still be amazing."

For most of the last two years, Balotelli has been compared unfavourably to City team-mate David Silva, who has not given Mancini a moment's trouble since his arrival from Valencia.

Silva is part of a Blues' dressing room that holds Balotelli in genuine affection, for all the diversions he has caused.

On Sunday though, they will be on opposite sides. It is a challenge Balotelli is relishing.

"I know David very well," said Balotelli.

"I played against him in the first game. It is going to be fun."

That earlier contest, in Gdansk, ended in a 1-1 draw.

Few give them much hope of a repeat performance, let alone a victory that would deny Spain their place in the history books as the first team to win three consecutive tournaments.

Yet, with likely player of the tournament Andrea Pirlo right at the top of his game and others, particularly Riccardo Montolivo, Daniele de Rossi and Balotelli's strike partner Antonio Cassano providing plenty of assistance, another shock cannot completely be ruled out.

Certainly Balotelli could practice a few celebrations in anticipation after Thursday's memorable effort.

"I don't have a special celebration for the final," he said. "I am not thinking about that."

    Rank Team W/D/L Pts

    Cities & Stadiums

    The Top 3 Teams of Previous Tournaments

    Year Winners Runner-up Third place
    2008SpainGermanyRussia / Turkey
    2004GreecePortugalNetherlands / Czech Republic
    2000FranceItalyNetherlands / Portugal
    1996GermanyCzech RepublicFrance / England
    1992DenmarkGermanyNetherlands / Sweden
    1988NetherlandsSoviet UnionItaly / West Germany
    1984FranceSpainDenmark / Portugal
    1980West GermanyBelgiumCzechoslovakia
    1976CzechoslovakiaWest GermanyNetherlands
    1972West GermanySoviet UnionBelgium
    1964SpainSoviet UnionHungary
    1960Soviet UnionYugoslaviaCzechoslovakia