Buffon backing Mario

Italy captain impressed by temperamental striker

Gianluigi Buffon: Italy captain has been impressed by Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli: Italy striker's brace against Germany set up final showdown with Spain

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Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon has hailed temperamental striker Mario Balotelli for his willingness to work for the team cause at Euro 2012.

The Manchester City forward was dropped by coach Cesare Prandelli for disciplinary reasons in March 2011 but has been a key figure in their march to Sunday's final.

Balotelli, who has made headlines for his antics on and off the field during his time in the Premier League, has been the model of good behaviour during his time in Poland and Ukraine.

The 21-year-old has certainly flourished and his brace in Thursday night's semi-final victory over Germany has put him in pole position to claim the coveted Golden Boot, in addition to setting up the Kiev clash with holders Spain.

"Mario deserves the most credit because he's really worked hard and wanted to succeed."

Mario Balotelli

Quotes of the week

"Mario has done very well thus far," said Buffon. "He has great natural talent and that is a fantastic starting point for him.

"But he's also come into a squad where there are a lot of star players, not only on the footballing side but in general.

"In addition, he has been able to work with a coach who, in a number of ways, has managed to get the best out him.

"Mario deserves the most credit because he's really worked hard and wanted to succeed."

Unique

Although there have been suggestions Balotelli might be left out of the starting XI, it would be a pretty tough call given his contribution to the victory in Warsaw.

Yet again, after leaving behind a domestic competition mired in scandal, Italy have emerged as a unified force. It happened in 1982 and 2006, with Italy winning the World Cup on both occasions.

And Buffon does not feel there is any coincidence, saying: "There is something unique in the Italian mentality.

"Beyond everything that has been said, and the rumours, Italians have a lot of respect and love for the national squad which goes above and beyond anything else.

"We have the opportunity to show just how great our country is. It's not always easy but we always try and find a way of getting a solid squad.

"There's a lot of solidarity and we're thinking along the same lines. That's our strength."

Who will win Euro 2012?

  • Spain
  • Italy