Mario Balotelli Returns To Italy National Team Ahead Of Vital World Cup Qualifiers

ROME — Mario Balotelli was named in the Italy squad for the first time since 2018 on Monday, as the Adana Demirspor striker joined seven uncapped players in Roberto Mancini's 35-man training camp selection.

Balotelli, who worked under Azzurri coach Mancini earlier in his career at Inter Milan and Manchester City, has not featured for the national team since September 2018.

But the 31-year-old earned a recall for this week's three-day training camp after scoring eight goals in 18 league games to fire Adana Demirspor to fourth place in the Turkish Super Lig.

It will be one of Mancini’s final opportunities to get his players together before their FIFA World Cup playoff semifinal against North Macedonia on March 24. The winners of that match will face Portugal or Turkey for a place in Qatar.

Balotelli starred in Italy’s run to the Euro 2012 final, memorably scoring twice and ripping off his shirt in a 2-1 semifinal win over Germany.

He has a record of 14 goals in 36 games for his country, but has earned only three caps since the 2014 World Cup.

Italy’s first-choice striker Ciro Immobile scored twice during their triumphant Euro 2020 campaign last summer.

But the Lazio man’s performances for the Azzurri have not always impressed, leading to a long-running debate over whether Balotelli should be brought back into the fold.

Brazil-born Joao Pedro of Cagliari and Luiz Felipe of Lazio earn their first call-ups.

They will be joined by five uncapped youngsters: Cremonese goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi, Atalanta defender Giorgio Scalvini and midfielders Davide Frattesi, Samuele Ricci and Nicolo Fagioli of Sassuolo, Empoli and Cremonese respectively.

(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; editing by Clare Fallon)

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