Mexico 1-2 Italy: Balotelli Shows Superstar Potential for Azzurri

Jack Alexandros RathbornContributor IIIJune 16, 2013

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 16:  Mario Balotelli of Italy reacts during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Group A match between Mexico and Italy at the Maracana Stadium on June 16, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Mario Balotelli capped a fine display from Italy to open up their Confederations Cup campaign with a 2-1 victory over Mexico.

Super Mario gave the Azzurri the lead after Javier Hernandez's penalty had earlier cancelled out Andrea Pirlo's sensational free-kick.

Despite a number of impressive performances, Balotelli really shone, and it has been remarkable how he has broken out in the last six months since leaving Manchester City.

Upon joining AC Milan, Balotelli's confidence—combined with guaranteed minutes on the pitch—has ensured that the Italian has emerged as a genuine world-class striker.

It now appears foolish from City to have sold a striker of his calibre, especially when you consider that this Balotelli is superior to Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez right now.

At just 22 years old, Balotelli is yet to reach his potential, unlike Dzeko, Tevez and arguably Aguero, having seen the Argentine play starting minutes for a number of seasons now.

The most striking thing about the way in which Balotelli is performing this year is how complete his game is, with Cesare Prandelli utilising every facet of his game—unlike Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.

Such have been his displays for Milan and now Italy of late, that I believe Balotelli is ready to break out into a superstar.

With a huge personality, some might argue that he already is one, but I feel that Balotelli is beginning to justify the attention that he garners with great contributions on the pitch.

Physically, Balotelli is an intimidating force for the opposition, as he is beginning to show strength and power to be a pure centre-forward, capable of leading the line and holding the ball up in order to facilitate his teammates.

If Prandelli plays a more creative striker in behind Balotelli and the opposition are prepared to allow the Azzurri to dictate possession, the Rossoneri striker can play off the last man as well, using his speed to stretch the opposition by darting into space to receive a number of through balls.

Balotelli demonstrated this against Mexico, by manhandling Francisco Rodriguez to collect Emanuele Giaccherini's flick-on.

Once he had used his speed to arrive ahead of any Mexican defenders, Balotelli's deft touch and strength to hold off further challenges from Hiram Mier and Carlos Salcido showed what he is capable of.

The powerful finish past Jesus Corona rounded off a scary combination of skills that gave us a glimpse of the sort of player that Balotelli can become over the next year as we build up to the World Cup.

With strength and hold-up play showing signs of Didier Drogba and a combination of speed and composure in front of goal that could draw comparisons to Ronaldo, Italy must now consider themselves real contenders for the World Cup, providing Balotelli can deliver such performances.

Having purchased the player for just £17.6 million six months ago, Milan will feel that they have one of the best strikers in Europe on their hands. That price looks like a wonderful piece of business by the Rossoneri when you consider that Napoli are rejecting bids in excess of £40 million for Edinson Cavani, according to Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail.

With a full season of first-team football that will pit him against the best defences in Europe—should Milan negotiate the qualifying stage for the Champions League—Balotelli has a great opportunity to arrive at next summer's World Cup in sensational form that might just inspire Italy to a fifth World Cup triumph.

Regardless of the Azzurri's future success though, fitness permitting, Balotelli is ready to become one of European football's superstars—on the pitch.


Jack is a football analyst and journalist based in London, who covers Italy's Serie A for Football Radar. You can follow him on twitter at @jackrathborn.