Maturing Balotelli emphasises the collective
© AFP

Mario Balotelli would happily sacrifice his shot at the Golden Boot prize if it meant Italy won UEFA EURO 2012. Much has been made of Cristiano Ronaldo's failure to take a penalty during Portugal's shoot-out defeat to Spain on Wednesday amid claims the former Manchester United man wished to take the last kick because it offered more personal glory.

At the start of the tournament, it would have been easy to imagine Balotelli taking a similar stance. However, throughout Italy's run to tomorrow's final against Spain, the 21-year-old has acted with a rare maturity.

And, though he is the only one still involved amongst a group of players level on three goals, Balotelli insists the personal glory is not his overall aim. "If we win and I score, it will be amazing," he said. "If I don't score and we win it will still be amazing.

"I am really happy at the moment and on Sunday I hope I will be even happier. We are in the final. We are one of the two best teams in the tournament. We have to go there and play to win."

And should Gli Azzurri triumph at the weekend, he will have winners' medals in a major international tournament, in addition to the UEFA Champions League, titles in England and Italy, plus the FA Cup. Not bad for someone who is still regarded as a joke player by his critics.

I am really happy at the moment and on Sunday I hope I will be even happier. We are in the final. We are one of the two best teams in the tournament.
Mario Balotelli, Italy forward

Yet throughout all the controversy that has raged around Balotelli this season, City boss Roberto Mancini has continued to insist he was worth the effort. Mancini has been left exasperated and amused in equal measure by his Inter Milan protege's antics.

But he always knew Balotelli had immense talent, which is what Italy are reaping the benefits of now. "We won the league at Manchester City so having a good season for me doesn't depend on winning the Euros," he said. "If we don't win it, it wouldn't spoil the other things but it would be special."

For most of the last two years, Balotelli has been compared unfavourably to City team-mate David Silva, who has not given Mancini a moment's trouble since his arrival from Valencia. Silva is part of a Blues dressing room that holds Balotelli in genuine affection, for all the diversions he has caused.

On Sunday though, they will be on opposite sides. It is a challenge Balotelli is relishing. "I know David very well," said Balotelli. "I played against him in the first game. It is going to be fun."

Balotelli does not think the City fans will hold it against him that he helped knock England out of the tournament. Asked if he would return to Italy, he said in The Sun: "Come back now? I go back to Manchester. The City fans always want me, even though they are British - and I have helped eliminate their national team."