Rome (AFP) – Striker Mario Balotelli has been recalled by Italy coach Roberto Mancini more than three years after he last played for the Azzurri for a training camp ahead of 2022 World Cup qualifying play-offs, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) said on Monday.
The 31-year-old Balotelli was one of several surprise call ups including Brazil-born Joao Pedro, now an Italian citizen, who was recently cleared to play for Italy.
Mancini intends to take advantage of the three-day camp at the national training centre at Coverciano, near Florence, ahead of tricky play-offs in late-March against North Macedonia and, in the case of victory, either Portugal or Turkey.
Balotelli, who made the last of his 36 international appearances in September 2018 and has scored 14 goals for Italy, now plays for newly-promoted Turkish side Adana Demirspor.
Balotelli scored regularly for Nice for two seasons in France prior to a short spell with Marseille before moving swiftly on to Brescia back in Italy and then Monza in Italy’s Serie B.
He previously played for both Milan clubs, winning three league titles with Inter, but disciplinary problems have dogged much of his career — though he starred for Italy in Euro 2012 — that season he also won the Premier League with City.
Cagliari striker Pedro, another former Brazilian, Lazio defender Luiz Felipe, 24, who has also gained Italian nationality, have also been called up.
Brazil-born Atalanta defender Rafael Toloi made his Italy debut last year and was part of the Euro 2020-winning squad.
Five newcomers include goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi (Cremonese), defender Giorgio Scalvini (Atalanta) and midfielders Davide Frattesi (Sassuolo), Nicolo Fagioli (Cremonese) and Samuele Ricci (Empoli).
In addition to those absent due to injury — Federico Chiesa, Leonardo Spinazzola, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Belotti — other regulars were not called up, such as Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti and Chelsea’s Jorginho.
The European champions missed out on the 2018 World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years, after being eliminated in a two-leg play-off against Sweden.
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