Buffon points finger at Italy youngsters
Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon says he and the elder statesmen in the Italy side can hold their heads high following their elimination from the World Cup, while questioning the effort of the younger players.
In 2010, much of the blame for Italy's group-stage exit was pinned on the core of the squad that had won the World Cup four years earlier, and were included once again under triumphant coach Marcello Lippi.
Four years on, the finger has again been pointed at the likes of Juventus trio Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, but the goalkeeper says if anybody can emerge from this World Cup with any credit, then it should be the veterans.
"All I'm asking for is the utmost serenity in making judgments because all too often you hear about the need for change, that Buffon, Pirlo, [Daniele] De Rossi, Chiellini and Barzagli are too old, but the truth is when the wagon needs pulling, these are always the ones in the front row," Buffon, 36, told Sky Sport Italia.
"They deserve a bit more respect. When you're on the field, you've got to deliver. It doesn't matter what you potentially could deliver, or what you might be able to deliver in future -- you've got to deliver it there and then."
There is speculation that AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli may have been one of the intended recipients of Buffon's criticism, which he firmed up in an interview with RAI television.
"You can see who was actually playing on the field and who wasn't there," he said, before passing the microphone to De Rossi, another of the 2006 winners.
"We need to analyse this without rushing and with serenity," the Roma midfielder said. "Otherwise there's the risk of underlining things that are not actually all that important. The main thing is we don't look for alibis.
"We need to bear in mind what happened and start over like real men, not like stickerbook photos or personalities -- we don't need those in the national team.
"I can only underline what Gigi said, and not just because I'm one of the four veterans he protected but because it's true that we embody the right spirit, and it's also true that we are the ones who always stand up and be counted. Anybody who doesn't feel like instilling the same effort and anybody who does not share the same passion should just stay at home."
Balotelli has borne the brunt of the criticism following Italy's exit but the striker has insisted he gave his all in Brazil.
Responding to a video asking him to quit playing for Italy, Balotelli said he was horrified by the reaction of Italians to his performances in Brazil, saying a "black guy" would never abandon their "brother."
"I am Mario Balotelli, I am 23 years old and I did not choose to be Italian," Balotelli wrote on Instagram. "I wanted it so strongly because I was born in ITALY and I have always lived in ITALY. I had such high hopes for this World Cup and I am sad, angry and disappointed with myself. Yes, maybe I could have scored against Costa Rica -- you're right -- but then what? What's the problem?
"Don't pin the blame only on me because Mario Balotelli gave everything for the national team and he did not get anything wrong [in terms of his character], so you can go and look for another excuse because Mario Balotelli has a clear conscience and is ready to move on, stronger than ever before and with his head held high, proud to have given everything for his country."
Balotelli, born in Palermo to Ghanaian immigrants and raised by foster parents in Brescia, added that he is beginning to doubt whether he really does share the same mentality as the Italians.
"Maybe, as you say, I'm not Italian," he added. "Africans would never ditch one of their 'brothers.' NEVER. In this respect, we blacks, as you call us, are light years ahead. A DISGRACE is not he who misses a goal or runs more or less. WHAT IS A DISGRACE ARE THESE THINGS. Real Italians! Am I right?"
After scoring in Italy's opening game against England, Balotelli struggled to lead the Italy attack by himself against Costa Rica. He was given assistance in the shape of Ciro Immobile for Italy's third group game against Uruguay on Tuesday, but after earning a yellow card in the first half, he was substituted at the break by coach Cesare Prandelli.
Balotelli followed the second half from the bench before heading straight onto the team coach while his teammates came to terms with the defeat and elimination. He had to be summoned back to the dressing room after about half an hour.
He has received the support of his club's general manager Adriano Galliani, who said at a meeting of club managers to discuss the 2015-18 Serie A television rights: "I don't understand why everybody is criticising only Balotelli, who was the only attacker who scored and the only one who created chances and showed the promise to score goals.
"Nobody even noticed the other forwards -- they didn't even show any promise. It seems like only Balotelli was eliminated with Italy. Clearly Balotelli is the only decent player Italy have got, considering everybody's talking about him only."