June 29, 2012
Bugging Balotelli not as important as stopping Pirlo
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
KIEV - We interupt this global Mario Balotelli love-fest to bring you a special announcement from the Spanish practice grounds.
Yes, stopping the engimatic, combustable striker is important to the defending champions as they look ahead to Sunday's championship game of Euro 2012 against Italy.
But muzzling midfielder Andrea Pirlo is even more vital.
Balotelli is a hit-and-miss type of player. Sure, his two-goal effort against the Germans in Italy's 2-1 semifinal victory Thursday was, as he put it, "the game of my career."
Having said that, where was he in Italy's quarterfinal victory against England, a game that went to penalties? He spent more time in that match kicking the air in frustration at missing good opportunities than he did booting the ball.
Pirlo, on the other hand, is the straw that stirs the Italian drink. At age 33, he is playing the best soccer of his illustrious career.
"They are very quick and dangerous on the break and Pirlo is unique," Spanish defender Sergio Ramos said during a Friday press conference here. "With a single pass he can open you up and leave a man one on one. He's the player that makes the difference.
"We know Italy are a great opponent, quick and good in possession. (And) Pirlo is their reference point. He dominates the game and controls the match. In that sense it's similar to the way that Xavi (Hernandez) controls the game."
"But it would be a mistake not to evaluate the rest of the other players."
By other players, Ramos definitely is including Balotelli.
"I think he is a great soccer player. He showed that (Thursday)," Spain's Cesc Fabregas said.
"He had two fantastic moments and scored two great goals. One a true centre-forward's header and the other one from a real cracking shot from outside the area in a European Championship semifinal against a top team like Germany. This tells you everything.
"I really liked they way he played and he will be, of course, a threat as well as (Antonio) Cassano or any other forward who plays with Italy."