Forward Mario Balotelli has been dropped by Italy coach Roberto Mancini for Monday’s Nations League game against European champions Portugal in Lisbon.
Nice striker Balotelli came under fire for his performance in their Nations League opener against Poland on Friday, where the Azzurri were held 1-1.
The 28-year-old was substituted with a muscular problem, with Mancini conceding his fitness level was a problem.
It will be the first game which Balotelli has not played since Mancini took over last May after the four-time winners’ devastating failure to qualify for the World Cup. But Balotelli has made the trip to Portugal with the squad as Mancini considers him to be a central figure in the team he is trying to rebuild.
Balotelli had played in all four games so far under Mancini, scoring in a 2-1 friendly win over Saudi Arabia. Mancini’s other two friendlies were a 3-1 defeat to World Cup winners France and 1-1 draw with the Netherlands. Lorenzo Pellegrini has also been left out along with Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno, Juventus defender Daniele Rugani and Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo.
Mancini confirmed that Fiorentina forward Federico Chiesa would start after the 20-year-old proved pivotal when he came on last Friday, along with goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Balotelli’s place could be taken by either Andrea Belotti or Ciro Immobile. Mancini defended Balotelli from criticism. “A player knows when he has played well or badly,” he said. “I think Mario knows full well what his performance against Poland was like. Criticism is part of the game.
“We are only at the beginning of this journey and will change several players from the Poland game, also to look after the lads. “We are ready and know it can be a very important match. I won’t say it’s decisive, as there are another two to go, but we are facing the reigning European champions.”
Italy’s have won six games to four for Portugal in previous meetings, but the Azzurri have not won a game in Lisbon in 31 years.