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Mar, 27, 2013

Prandelli hails in-form Balotelli

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli believes Mario Balotelli has finally come of age after his match-winning performance in a 2-0 win over Malta on Tuesday evening.

Balotelli scored a brace for the Azzurri, taking his tally to 10 goals in nine games for club and country since leaving Manchester City for AC Milan in January. The striker's latest feat lifts Italy three points clear at the top of their World Cup qualifying group.

"He just needs to get used to that kind of thing," Prandelli told FIGC.it. "He has to stay strong and keep his cool when people are trying to wind him up, like he did tonight."

Balotelli's second goal followed a nervy moment for Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon, who guessed the right way to save Michael Mifsud's penalty after he had fouled Andre Schembri in the box.

"He did that at the perfect moment - like a captain should," Prandelli said of his goalkeeper.

"We knew they wouldn't give us any space," he added. "We were too slow in building up moves and we had difficulty going forward even though we kept possession.

"There was a lack of intensity in the final third. There was far too much distance between the backline and the midfield.

"It seems absurd to say this but the strong wind here influenced our passing too.

"Nevertheless it was important that we won. I've seen two good outings with the great performance against Brazil and then these three points."

The match also brought news of Morgan De Sanctis' retirement from international football at the age of 36. The Napoli goalkeeper made his Italy debut against Iceland in 2005 but has picked up only five more caps since.

He said: "The time has come for me to leave room for the newcomers. It's not going to be easy to leave this group, though, because it's full of great guys. Let's hope they go one step further than we did at the Euros.

"Behind Gigi (Buffon) there are (Salvatore) Sirigu, (Federico) Marchetti and other good goalkeepers who will have to wait a few more years, so we are in good hands.

"I told the guys my decision this morning and I talked to the coach last night. At 36 I've got a few shots left to take with my club."

Information from the Press Association was used in this report.

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