|Italy's Mario Balotelli (2ndR) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Ireland. (REUTERS)
POZNAN, POLAND - If people want entertainment, then Italian forward Mario Balotelli is giving them what they want -- whether he intends to or not.
To borrow a line from Winston Churchill once delivered about Russia, Balotelli is a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: But perhaps there is a key."
Whatever that key is, no one has been able to fully insert it into the lock and turn it. Balotelli has the potential to be one of the best strikers in soccer. But so many things need to be fixed that there is a fear he may never reach that potential. He's temperamental, tempestuous, self-centred and at times unfocused. Most of the time he looks as if he is wearing shoes that are two sizes too small and his feet hurt. He is like a volcano about to blow. No one knows when it will happen, including the volcano itself. Fans recognize this and take every opportunity to razz him, hoping he hears one thing that will make him blow.
But when he is on point, the man can really play.
Balotelli came into a Group C match Monday against Ireland as a substitute. He already had sustained a wicked amount of criticism for his performance as a starter during the first two games at Euro 2012. But against the Irish he scored a world-class goal late in the game to solidify Italy's 2-0 win and its advancement to the second round of the tournament.
But it didn't stop there. After a brief celebration Balotelli turned to the sidelines and began to wave and yell at someone. Teammate Leonardo Bonucci immediately pulled down Balotelli's raised hand, hugged him and firmly placed one of his own hands over Balotelli's mouth in an effort to protect his teammate. Bonucci said he didn't know what Balotelli was going to say but he was taking no chances.
"Whatever he said, he said it in English and I didn't understand it," Bonucci said. "I put my hand in front of him because Mario is instinctive, and that's also his strength. We spoke with him and he knew how he should have behaved."
No one is quite sure what Balotelli was going to say or do but rest assured it would have been newsworthy. Speculation was that he intended to respond to the Irish fans who were giving it to him or he was going to say something to his coach Cesare Prandelli for not starting him in the final game.
But don't worry, with Italy moving into the second round there will be more Balotelli action, both with the soccer ball and without.