Italy were dumped out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on Tuesday in Natal, as Uruguay won 1-0 to see themselves through to the last 16 in place of the Azzurri.
A late Diego Godin header was enough for La Celeste—who had to win the game—to make the knockout rounds after losing to Costa Rica and beating England.
Mario Balotelli—Italy's star striker who bagged the crucial goal in defeating England—was not looking at his sharpest for the majority of the first half.
He went down early on, apparently injured, although sportswriter Tariq Panja was less than convinced about the validity of the AC Milan man's complaints:
Balotelli got back up again, but he continued to show less than impressive touches and football journalist Siavoush Fallahi pithily summed things up:
Balotelli in this mood is frustrating to watch— Siavoush Fallahi (@SiavoushF) June 24, 2014
The 23-year-old—so often impressive in an Italy shirt—was ineffective in a dirty encounter against the Uruguayans, the Irish Times' Ken Early offering a damning appraisal:
Inevitably, a frustrated Balotelli eventually snapped and picked up a silly yellow card for a very high challenge on Alvaro Pereira, per The Independent:
The Associated Press' Graham Dunbar offered an appraisal of how the Uruguay defender may be affected in the coming days:
Balotelli definitely misses next match, Pereira probably misses next few weeks of memory recall— Graham Dunbar (@gdunbarap) June 24, 2014
The final ignominy for Balotelli was being substituted at half-time by Cesare Prandelli, per ESPN FC, fully deserved as far as the Daily Mail's Ian Ladyman was concerned:
Balotelli taken off because he's been rubbish and was more likely to be sent off that do anything remotely productive.— Ian Ladyman (@Ian_Ladyman_DM) June 24, 2014
However, the BBC's Ben Smith offered an alternative reason:
Now being told Mario Balotelli had an injury. Italy have replaced him with a midfielder though. 0-0 suits them— Ben Smith (@BenSmithBBC) June 24, 2014
Italy's pass-master Andrea Pirlo had a much better game than his young teammate, setting up in the centre of midfield alongside Marco Verratti, per ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan:
Especially impressive how Pirlo & Verratti managing game from midfield against super aggressive opponents. Not so easy to do.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) June 24, 2014
However, he was not given much space in which to move as he was marshalled throughout by Uruguay forward Edinson Cavani, per The Guardian's Paolo Bandini:
Verratti doing good work in midfield - but partly because Uruguay are ignoring him. Cavani tracking Pirlo everywhere like a possessive pup— Paolo Bandini (@Paolo_Bandini) June 24, 2014
Indeed the pair swapped shirts at half-time rather than the traditional post-match attire switch, per the Daily Mail:
Sports columnist Jack Todd praised the veteran's superb talent while highlighting his class against much of his teammates' play-acting:
Andrea Pirlo is one of the three or four best players on the planet. Why is he surrounded by guys who fake injury at every tap?— Jack Todd (@jacktodd46) June 24, 2014
However, despite the 35-year-old's presence, Italy could not summon anything and the great man has no doubt played his final World Cup encounter.
A poor early exit it was in the end from Italy, their opening win against England—so heavily influenced by both Pirlo and Balotelli—should have pushed them on to maybe even top the group.
But they were poor in a loss to Costa Rica and overly negative as they played for the draw against Uruguay.
They will now have to rebuild after their exit and, especially with the departure of Pirlo, it could be a long process.