Suddenly, the star scorer has been scratched with a fever, which will perpetuate the trend of a lacking Italian attack.
Earlier this morning, the Associated Press broke the news over Twitter:
— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) October 12, 2012
The same Italy team that reached the finals in Euro 2012 this summer has lacked offensive firepower without Balotelli on the attack. As a result, they are fighting to advance to the next round of the hexagonal.
The Italians have notched four points in Group B of the UEFA confederation, which is in a tie for first. However, the upstart Armenian team is just one point behind, and will be inspired to take on an international juggernaut it has never faced.
It's still early, but Italy is ranked No. 8 in the current FIFA rankings, while Armenia is ranked just 64th. They must take care of business as the heavily favored squad at home.
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli has been trying to figure out the right chemistry to generate more consistency on offense. As he told the media recently, it has been extremely difficult to come by (via ESPNFC.com):
This will be the 10th attacking pair I've used. We're looking for something that works and we might even try a trident in the future.
That was prior to the knowledge that Balotelli would be missing for the Armenia match, so Prandelli will have to readjust his strategy once again. There is room for experimentation against a massive underdog in Armenia.
That said, the Italians must be careful to not get too complacent as they seemed to have done in a draw with Bulgaria and a sluggish win over Malta in pool play thus far.
Pablo Osvaldo will be counted on to anchor the attack for the Azzurri in lieu of Balotelli. Osvaldo scored both goals in the underwhelming 2-2 result of the Group B opener, but struggled to find the mark despite good opportunities against lesser competition in Malta.
Italy has a chance to make a statement as a legitimate World Cup contender, but they must get through qualifying first. A pickup in tempo and intensity may make their attack click, but the presence of their clear No. 1 scoring option is difficult to replace.
Without Balotelli, the Azzurri should still escape with a win due to heightened intensity and the wake-up call served by Italy's opening two FIFA qualifiers.
Italy's trend of a rather stagnant offense is likely to linger absent their mercurial, Mohawk rocking Super Mario, though.