Italy's Mario Balotelli loses spot; coach Roberto Mancini defends 'bad game'
Italy forward Mario Balotelli, who was criticised for his performance in a 1-1 draw against Poland on Friday, was dropped from the 23-man squad by coach Roberto Mancini for the UEFA Nations League game against Portugal on Monday.
Balotelli was singled out for the most criticism as Italy were held in Bologna, but Mancini -- who is set to replace him in his attack with Ciro Immobile -- leapt to his defence at a news conference on Sunday.
"It happens that you can have a bad game," Mancini said. "When you play well, you get lots of praise and if you don't play well, you get a lot of criticism and it's just part of being a footballer. Everybody sees the game they want to, and frankly, I'm not worried."
Federico Chiesa transformed Italy when he came off the bench and earned a penalty, and he is set to be rewarded with a starting berth on Monday night as Mancini said he is still searching for his strongest team.
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"The game against Poland was our first competitive game with three points at stake, and sooner or later, we will find the right formula," he said. "We just need a bit of patience, but patience does not exist in Italy, so let's hope we find the right formula quickly.
"We need to make fewer mistakes and then we need to get more forwards in the box."
Juventus' Daniele Rugani was also dropped from the 23-man squad to face Portugal, as were Cristiano Biraghi, Pietro Pellegri, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo Zaniolo and Davide Zappacosta.
Cristiano Ronaldo will not play for Portugal after being left out of their squad, but that does not necessarily make things any easier for Italy, Mancini said.
"Portugal are the reigning European champions and they are stronger with Ronaldo, but even without him, they have players with very high technical qualities," Mancini said. "It's only normal that they play differently without him, but they are still strong."
After drawing with Poland on Friday, Italy are looking to launch their Nations League campaign in Lisbon with the winner of the three-nation group assigned as hosts for the finals in June.
"We want to finish top and go to the European Championship," Mancini said. "We don't want to come last, also because of the difficulty this would bring to the next draw. Our aim is to try to win."
Italy's 23-man squad vs. Portugal:
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma, Mattia Perin, Salvatore Sirigu.
Defenders: Leonardo Bonucci, Mattia Caldara, Giorgio Chiellini, Domenico Criscito, Emerson Palmieri, Manuel Lazzari, Alessio Romagnoli.
Midfielders: Nicolo Barella, Marco Benassi, Bryan Cristante, Roberto Gagliardini, Jorginho.
Forwards: Andrea Belotti, Domenico Berardi, Federico Bernardeschi, Giacomo Bonaventura, Federico Chiesa, Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne, Simone Zaza.