Italy coach Cesare Prandelli today called on Mario Balotelli to produce a performance worthy of the "Premier League" as he handed the Manchester City striker the Azzurri's number ten shirt for a friendly with Romania.
Balotelli, the first black player to play for the Azzurri, will win just his second cap for Italy tomorrow when he takes the place of Sampdoria's Antonio Cassano. Cassano, currently serving out a suspension for having publicly insulted his club's president, was not selected for the friendly. Prandelli meanwhile said he is hoping to see Balotelli produce for Italy what he has for City in the Premier League.
"Players like Balotelli have that little something extra," said Prandelli at Italy's training camp at Coverciano, near Florence today. "These are lads of 20 years old who are still young and inexperienced off the field, but once they get on it it's a different thing altogether. They're mature and are not scared to take risks in the game."
Balotelli, who was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents, will partner Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi in Wednesday's fixture which will be played in Klagenfurt, Austria. Prandelli added: "I don't think Mario will suffer from being in the spotlight tomorrow. All I'm asking is for him to produce the same kind of impressive football he has up till now in the English Premier League."
The Italy coach will hand starting debuts to four players: defenders Andrea Ranocchia (Genoa) and Federico Balzaretti (Palermo) and midfielders Cristian Ledesma (Lazio) and Alessandro Diamanti (Brescia).
Diamanti will be Italy's playmaker, sitting just behind the front pair of Rossi and Balotelli. With number one 'keeper Gianluigi Buffon still sidelined due to a back problem and not expected back until the start of the new year, Bologna's Emiliano Viviano steps in between the posts.