Struggling Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli is back in the international fold…
£16m signing Mario Balotelli may still be searching for his first Premier League goal of the season but he’s done enough to secure a return to the Italian national team setup.
After being left out of new boss Antonio Conte’s previous two squads, the 24-year-old is included in a group of 26 players for Sunday’s Euro 2016 qualifier with Croatia and a friendly with Albania two days later.
Since arriving at Anfield from AC Milan in August, Balotelli has netted just two goals – one in the Champions League and one in the Capital One Cup – in 14 appearances.
He has also faced criticism for his all-round effort and a couple of non football-related incidents, including swapping shirts with an opponent at half-time of last month’s 3-0 defeat to Real Madrid.
Consequently his return to the international scene has seen eyebrows raised in some quarters but Conte is unconcerned.
“Personally, I’m not going to pay attention to talk about the club,” he told a press conference.
“People try to exaggerate each situation and I feel sorry for him.
“Today he is here and he has to answer to me. I will judge him by what he does in the next seven to nine days.
“I’m worried that people see Balotelli differently to the others.
“Balotelli is a normal footballer, just like the others. We don’t need to differentiate Balotelli from the others, he`s just one of the 23 players.
“Balotelli has significant experience with the national team, he has played at a World Cup and a European championship, but that’s not enough.
“He needs to catch my eye and I have to see if he can adapt to our type of football.”
The fixture with Croatia at the San Siro sees the top two in Group H clash, both currently have a 100% return of nine points from three games.
The visitors are likely to field Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren as they attempt to achieve a shut-out.
Elsewhere, a host of other Liverpool players have also received senior international call-ups in recent days.
In addition to the club’s England contingent, Joe Allen and young goalkeeper Danny Ward are in the Wales party that will be taking on Simon Mignolet‘s Belgium in Group B on Sunday.
Lazar Markovic is with Serbia for games with Denmark and Greece, while Martin Skrtel will lead Slovakia into action against FYR Macedonia and Finland.
Away from Europe, Kolo Toure is set for African Cup of Nations qualification action – his Ivory Coast side are scheduled to face Sierra Leone and Cameroon – and Philippe Coutinho retains his Brazil berth for friendlies with Turkey and Austria.
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