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Jun 19, 2014

Balotelli not seeking personal plaudits

ESPN FC's Craig Burley gives his thoughts on the clash between Costa Rica and Italy, and believes the efficient Italian squad have what it takes to redeem itself after a poor 2010 World Cup.

RECIFE, Brazil -- Mario Balotelli could not care less if he is mentioned in the same breath as Neymar or Lionel Messi at this World Cup -- as long as he comes away with the trophy.

Having scored the winning goal in Italy's 2-1 victory over England and now getting ready for Friday's match against Costa Rica, the forward has gained more attention than any other Azzurri player in Brazil.

"I hope this is Italy's World Cup, not Mario's," he said. "I'm not really interested in being compared with the big stars. In the end it's the squad that wins. I don't want to be a big star. I want to win the World Cup.

"Personally, I want to score as many goals as possible, but the important thing is that the squad wins and advances."

Asked if he minds being the lone forward in coach Cesare Prandelli's 4-1-4-1 formation, Balotelli said: "As long as I play ..."

This is a first World Cup for Balotelli, who helped lead Italy to the 2012 European Championship final.

"This is the biggest event of my career and I want to give my all," he said. "The World Cup is more important than the Ballon d'Or, the Champions League or the scudetto [Serie A title], so it's only normal that it creates a spark inside of you."

Balotelli has made headlines almost from the moment he landed in Brazil, first by proposing to his Belgian girlfriend on a moonlit beach in the week leading up to the England match.

"The proposal had nothing to do with the World Cup," Balotelli said. "The proposal would have occurred even without the World Cup."

Balotelli is coming off the back of an up-and-down club season with AC Milan and has been the subject of rampant transfer speculation in recent weeks. There have been reports that Arsenal are offering Milan 30 million pounds, and a contract for Balotelli worth 180,000 pounds per week.

"My focus is 100 percent on the World Cup," he said. "I don't know what will happen afterward. I don't know anything."

While he does appear focused, Balotelli was not prepared for questions about Costa Rica's players.

For example, when asked about Keylor Navas, who had a strong season with Levante and is considered one of the top goalkeepers in the Spanish league, he replied: "Honestly, I'm unprepared for this question because I haven't seen the Costa Rica goalkeeper."

Asked what impressed him about Costa Rica's defence in a 3-1 win over Uruguay, he said: "I saw the match but to be sincere I didn't study the players. I'll watch them tonight."

That was the point when Prandelli butted in and offered help.

"If you want, I can answer about all of the players," the coach told a Costa Rican journalist with a smile.

Sitting right next to Balotelli, Prandelli analysed the striker's hot and cold streaks as if he were there alone.

"If you look at Mario in these four years there have been moments of alarm," Prandelli said. "One moment he's the man who's going to bring you to the top of the world and then a moment later he shouldn't even be at the World Cup.

"The important thing for us is for him to stay focused and play like he did in the last match. If he does that for 90 minutes he could be decisive. He needs to give 100 percent."

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