Balotelli 'more motivated than ever'
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli believes Mario Balotelli has responded positively to criticism as he pins his hopes on the striker to maintain Italy's excellent record against Germany on Friday night.
Italy have not lost to Germany since 1995 and Prandelli believes an under-fire Balotelli, the Squadra Azzurra's match-winner in their last big win over Joachim Loew's men in the semifinals of Euro 2012, is the right man to respond to recent criticism -- some of it levelled by Prandelli -- on the field at the San Siro.
"The way he has presented himself these days, I think a bit of criticism has done him good," Prandelli said at a news conference in Milan. "I've never seen Mario so motivated."
The latest round of criticism came from the general manager of Germany, Oliver Bierhoff, who suggested the Italy striker risks throwing all of his talent away.
"That's a risk," Bierhoff, a former striker at Balotelli's current club, AC Milan, said. "Hopefully he will pull himself together because he makes it hard for a club to know whether to take the hard line with him or be soft."
Prandelli said that while Bierhoff has a point, his words do not only apply to Balotelli, who continues to be the focus of attention.
"They are strong words, destined for everybody," Prandelli said. "From a football point of view, Mario can do much more. He is a forward feared by defences throughout the world."
On Friday night, it will be the Germany defence fearing him, as they did at Euro 2012, even if Philipp Lahm insists the image of a bare-chested Balotelli flexing his muscles in celebration of his winning goal no longer has any effect on him.
"I'm sure there are pictures of me celebrating with other people sad," the Germany captain told his prematch news conference. "There are winners and losers in football."
Balotelli will be partnered by Southampton forward Pablo Osvaldo on Friday night with Giuseppe Rossi, his designated partner for next summer's World Cup, ruled out due to the after effects of a virus.