Cesare Prandelli hopes Mario Balotelli is finally starting to realise his potential

Mario Balotelli: Praised by Cesare Prandelli

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Italy head coach Cesare Prandelli hopes Mario Balotelli is finally taking control of his temper and starting to realise his potential after watching his brace decide a 2-0 victory in Malta.

The AC Milan striker reached 10 goals in nine games for club and country since he left Manchester City with a deft side-footed finish to follow his early penalty at Ta' Qali, as Italy opened up a three-point gap on Bulgaria in World Cup qualifying Group B.

Balotelli is certainly no stranger to antagonism from rival supporters and players but, after he rose above all taunts directed his way on Tuesday night, Prandelli backed the 22-year-old to keep on scoring on the road to Brazil.

He told FIGC.it: "He just needs to get used to that kind of thing. 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, before turning his thoughts to Italy's general performance.

"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."

Tuesday night also brought news of Morgan De Sanctis' retirement from international football at the age of 36.

The Napoli goalkeeper made his Azzurri 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."