But Balotelli had the last laugh on Monday. He scored a goal that will certainly go down as one of the best of Euro 2012.
The 21-year-old struck in the 90th minute. His stunning volley off a corner kick from Andrea Pirlo capped Italy’s 2-0 win over Ireland. The result earned the Italians a spot in the quarterfinals, where it will meet the winners of Group D on Sunday.
Balotelli started Italy’s first two games, but had little impact and no goals to show for his efforts. He spurned a scoring chance in Italy’s 1-1 draw with Spain, and was largely ineffective in 68 minutes of action in the 1-1 draw against Croatia.
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli criticized Balotelli after the Croatia game, saying he was too often found in the wrong position. Prandelli benched Balotelli ahead of Monday’s must-win game with Ireland, starting Antonio di Natale in place of the mercurial star.
Balotelli, an Italian of Ghanaian descent, was racially abused by fans from Spain and Croatia. A group of Spanish fans made monkey noises every time Balotelli touched the ball. A Croatian fan threw a banana at him during that game.
It is unknown how much being a target of racial abuse has affected Balotelli’s performance. But it’s a crying shame that the fun-loving Manchester City star has made headlines at Euro 2012 for reasons he cannot control … until now.