Mario Balotelli Answers Critics, Racists With Wonder-Goal in Italy’s Win Over Ireland (Video)

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Mario Balotelli Answers Critics, Racists With Wonder-Goal in Italy's Win Over Ireland (Video)Mario Balotelli has endured a difficult start to the 2012 UEFA European Championships. The Italy striker has been taunted by racist fans, and benched by his coach in the last week.

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.

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