Saudi Arabia set to face Mario Balotelli after striker earns Italy recall

Mario Balotelli could face the Green Falcons on May 28. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2018
0

Saudi Arabia set to face Mario Balotelli after striker earns Italy recall

  • Saudi Arabia play Italy on May 28
  • Balotelli set to play for the Azzurri for the first time in four years

TURIN: New Italy coach Roberto Mancini on Saturday recalled Nice striker Mario Balotelli to the Azzurri fold for three upcoming friendlies as he begins the job of reviving Italian fortunes.
Mancini was appointed last Monday, six months after Gian Piero Ventura was sacked following the four-time world champions’ failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
The 53-year-old, who left Zenit Saint Petersburg to take the job, unveiled his first 30-man squad for matches against Saudi Arabia, France and the Netherlands.
Mancini takes charge of his first game against the Green Falcons in St. Gallen, Switzerland on May 28.
As expected, the 27-year-old Balotelli was included for the first time in nearly four years.
Balotelli has scored 13 goals in 33 appearances for the Azzurri but has not played international football since Italy’s humiliating group-stage exit from the 2014 World Cup.
Balotelli was last called up by coach Antonio Conte in November 2014 but did not play because of injury.
He has now been given another chance by Mancini, who coached him at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.
Balotelli has resurrected his career since joining Nice in 2016 after less successful spells with AC Milan and Liverpool, scoring 26 goals in all competitions this season, without any of the bad-boy behavior that previously dogged his career.
Italy are not spoilt for choice with forward so Balotelli’s success with Nice could not be overlooked by Mancini.
As a youngster, Balotelli was part of the Inter side coached by Jose Mourinho that won the Champions League in 2010.
He also won three Serie A titles with Inter before switching to Manchester City and helping them claim the Premier League crown in 2012.
Meanwhile, Mancini’s squad was without goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon who this week confirmed he would not play again for the national side.
The presence of Buffon — who holds the record for Italy caps with 176 — proved controversial during friendlies in March with his critics wanting him to move over for a younger generation.
In his absence, Mancini has recalled Salvatore Sirigu, who has had a successful season since joining Torino, alongside AC Milan teenager Gianluigi Donnarumma and Genoa’s Mattia Perin.
Among the veterans there was no call-up for Roma captain Daniele De Rossi, with Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini absent through injury.
The captain’s armband is expected to go to AC Milan center-back Leonardo Bonucci.
Five players have been given a first call-up — Chelsea left-back Emerson Palmieri, Torino midfielder Daniele Baselli, Crotone midfielder Rolando Mandragora, Sassuolo striker Domenico Berardi and Atalanta defender Mattia Caldara.
Along with defenders Alessio Romagnoli and Daniele Rugani, midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini and strikers Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi are among the promising youngsters who are expected to put Italy back on the road to victory.
The squad will meet for the first time at the Italian national team’s training camp at Coverciano near Florence on May 23.

Italy squad
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino);
Defenders: Leonardo Bonucci (AC Milan), Mattia Caldara (Atalanta), Domenico Criscito (Zenit St. Petersburg/RUS), Danilo D’Ambrosio (Inter Milan), Mattia De Sciglio (Juventus), Emerson Palmieri Dos Santos (Chelsea/ENG), Alessio Romagnoli (AC Milan), Daniele Rugani (Juventus), Davide Zappacosta (Chelsea/ENG)
Midfielders: Daniele Baselli (Torino), Giacomo Bonaventura (Milan), Bryan Cristante (Atalanta), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Jorginho (Napoli), Rolando Mandragora (Crotone), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma)
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Nice/FRA), Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Matteo Politano (Sassuolo), Simone Verdi (Bologna), Simone Zaza (Valencia/ESP)


Buck stops with Juan Antonio Pizzi for Saudi Arabia’s ‘shameful’ World Cup defeat to Russia

Updated 17 June 2018
0

Buck stops with Juan Antonio Pizzi for Saudi Arabia’s ‘shameful’ World Cup defeat to Russia

The vice president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation said the future of Juan Antonio Pizzi will not be discussed in the media as the Green Falcons try to get to grips with the “bitterness” of the heavy defeat to Russia on the opening night.
Saudi Arabia suffered their second heaviest defeat in World Cup history when the hosts put five unanswered goals past them at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Federation president Adel Ezzat called the performance “totally unsatisfactory” while General Sports Authority chief Turki Al-Sheikh labelled the effort “a total fiasco.”
Pizzi took his share of responsibility for matters, calling the outcome “a shameful situation” and former Green Falcons international Nawaf Al-Temyat concurred that the buck stops with the coach.
“The coach is technically responsible for the loss of our team,” said Al-Temyat in a video interview published on the Saudi Arabian Football Federation Twitter account.
“You are well aware that we cannot discuss the decisions taken by the coach during the match and the actions to be taken before the media.”
Saudi Arabia enjoyed 60 percent of possession, but failed to muster a single shot on target. Russia were more clinical in both boxes and the Green Falcons struggled to cope with their directness.
“We lost on the style,” Al-Temyat said. “We allowed them to impose their way of playing that differs from ours, and it is physical. The ball acquisition was null. It is a technical issue that needs to be addressed. They did not cooperate together as required.”
Saudi Arabia need to pick themselves up before facing Uruguay on Wednesday, but Al-Temyat believes it may take a while to get over the Russia game.
“We should not forget what happened and the bitterness of what happened (on Thursday), but this should be addressed in a proper way that reflects the players, the administrative staff and the national team,” he said.