Italy coach uncertain about Balotelli
ROME, Italy (AP):
Six goals in six French league matches were not enough to convince Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura to restore Mario Balotelli to the national team.
The often-divisive striker also needs to convince Ventura that he has cleaned up his act - both on and off the pitch.
"It's not due to technical reasons that Balotelli isn't on the national team," Ventura said yesterday. "He has great skills. Nobody is debating his technical abilities. Rather, it's a thousand other factors."
Since transferring on a free transfer from Liverpool to Nice on deadline day, Balotelli has helped the unheralded club to first place in France and has seven goals in eight matches in all competitions.
"He's been back in form for two months now, but you can't think that in two months somebody has changed who they are," Ventura added.
After scoring only one league goal in each of the past two seasons with Liverpool and AC Milan, respectively, Balotelli never played for Italy under coach Antonio Conte.
His last appearance for Italy came when the Azzurri were eliminated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup - where he was considered a distraction by several team-mates.
At 26 years old, Balotelli potentially has many more years as a top player.
Ventura said he will have a discussion with Balotelli "to see if he has the desire to be a leader within the team".
"There are another two and a half months to evaluate," the coach added, looking ahead to a possible return in 2017.
Meanwhile, forward Graziano Pelle also remains excluded after refusing to shake Ventura's hand following a substitution during a 1-1 draw with Spain last month.
"I thought it would be useful for him to have a pause
to reflect," Ventura said of Pelle, who transferred from Southampton to Chinese club Shandong Luneng in July.
As for Sebastian Giovinco, Ventura said the high-scoring forward for MLS club Toronto FC has been left out because he "plays in a league that doesn't count for much".
Italy is training for a World Cup qualifier at Liechtenstein on Saturday and a friendly with Germany three days later in Milan.
Ventura plans to rely on the forward tandem of Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile - both of whom played under him at Torino.
Immobile has scored nine goals in 12 matches for Lazio this season, while Belotti has eight in 10 for Torino.
"They're two players I don't need to get to know. I know them perfectly well since I coached them," Ventura said. "They have a chance to take over the national team."
Midfielder Claudio Marchisio was also sent home yesterday with an injured left leg, two days after being called back to the national team after six months out with a torn cruciate ligament, which forced him to miss the European Championship.
Atalanta midfielder Roberto Gagliardini and Genoa defender Armando Izzo were called up after Marchisio left.
Defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli are also out injured, with Juventus announcing yesterday that Barzagli will miss two months with a dislocated left shoulder.
Italy is level on points with Group G leader Spain, one point ahead of Albania and Israel, while Macedonia and Liechtenstein are last with zero points.