Italy manager Roberto Mancini has suggested Mario Balotelli will not be part of his final Euro 2020 squad.
Brescia striker Balotelli hit the headlines earlier this month when he threatened to walk off during his side’s 2-1 defeat at Hellas Verona after allegedly being racially abused.
Italian soccer federation president Gabriele Gravina then said that naming Balotelli in the Italy squad for the qualifying matches that were approaching at the time would send out a strong message against racism.
Mancini, however, ignored such a comment in naming his squad. When asked in the build-up to the games against Bosnia & Herzegovina – that Italy won 3-0 on Friday – and Armenia tomorrow as to why he had not selected the 29-year-old, he responded by saying a call-up would be based on merit, and not “because of the colour of his skin”.
In the wake of the victory over Bosnia, Mancini appears to know the squad he will be selecting, bar any injuries over the next few months.
“I am not thinking about new additions to the group,” said Mancini, speaking to reporters on a visit to Venice to offer support to the troubled city that has been hit by flooding.
“That’s because there isn’t much time to prepare, and it’s difficult to really settle anyone in with so few games from now until June.
“There really isn’t enough time to think about performing experiments.”
Asked whether the door had closed on Balotelli, who has scored two goals in his seven appearances for Brescia but has not played for Italy for 14 months, Mancini replied: “Mario knows full well that he will return to the Azzurri when he deserves it, exactly like all the other players.”
Italy close out their qualifying campaign at the Stadio Renzo Barbera in Palermo aiming for a ‘perfect 10’ after winning all nine of their Group J matches to date, a far cry from two years ago when they failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup finals.
#EuropeanQualifiers 🏆— Italy (@azzurri) November 15, 2019
A great away performance from the Azzurri to make it 🔟in a row and earn a spot as a seeded side for the #EURO2020 finals! 💪#BOSITA 🇧🇦🇮🇹 0-3 #VivoAzzurro pic.twitter.com/6Cg5d8pfqe
In defeating Bosnia, Mancini’s side set a new record of 10 straight victories overall, beating the mark of double World Cup-winning manager Vittorio Pozzo across 1938-39.
One striker almost certain to be involved next summer is Andrea Belotti, who scored the third against Bosnia to take his tally to nine goals for his country, the most by any member of the current squad.
Explaining Mancini’s influence, Torino forward Belotti said: “Ten wins from 10 is good for a side that had to start again. It’s nice because winning helps you to keep winning. We’ll take the record, but we want other records and have other dreams.
“Mancini has made a big impact and he has very clear ideas. Of course, it wasn’t easy to go again after what had happened and he helped us to do so in a way that shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
With it now being ten consecutive wins, @robymancio has moved ahead of the legendary Vittorio Pozzo to hold the longest winning run in Azzurri history! 👏🇮🇹— Italy (@azzurri) November 15, 2019
#BOSITA 🇧🇦🇮🇹 #VivoAzzurro pic.twitter.com/g9zlqRz9uY
Belotti played the full 90 minutes against Bosnia but will make way for Lazio forward Ciro Immobile in a move confirmed by Mancini prior to the games.
Belotti added: “More than a rival, Ciro is a friend and a really great forward and he’s showing it.
“I don’t think one forward is enough for Italy and more are needed. If we keep it up, it’s all for the good of the national team.”
Armenia, meanwhile, go into the game with nothing but pride to play for and on the back of two consecutive qualifying defeats.