When Leonardo Bonucci covered Mario Balotelli's mouth with his hands after he scored against the Republic of Ireland he was more than just doing his team-mate a favour. He was towing the party line. Since the striker's arrival in Krakow Mario Balotelli has still not been heard publicly, and this week it has caused particular frustration among English journalists.
"Why is Balotelli not speaking?" asked one disgruntled member of the press pack. "He's the only story in town". A comment that speaks volumes for a certain insular mindset. There's more to Italy than just Super Mario.
Football writers love Balotelli because he makes their lives so much easier. Throughout the season rarely a week goes by without him getting in the news for some escapade, on or off the pitch. At times he writes the headlines by himself. Yesterday in training, for example, he and Antonio Di Natale broke the monotony of jogging by teaming up to trip Antonio Cassano.
But when it all goes quiet on the Mario front it means we all have to work a bit harder for our stories. The language barrier doesn't help, of course. When two player press conferences take place simultaneously at Casa Azzurri, translators aren't provided for both, so those reporters at Alessandro Diamanti's press conference were left fuming on Wednesday when he would only answer questions in Italian and they were left, like Balotelli the other night in Poznan, muzzled.
Contrary to what some English scribes will have you believe, Italy are about much so more than their Manchester City FC striker. What about Cassano, who has been outstanding in his three matches so far, or Claudio Marchisio, whose tireless displays have made him the Azzurri's standout player to date?
Marchisio is a phenomenal athlete, as he showed once again yesterday when the players were put through interval sprint training under the burning sun. While Balotelli was the first to wilt under the gruelling examination of the Azzurri's fitness instructor, Marchisio barely broke sweat. He has clocked more kilometres (35) so far this tournament than any of his team-mates, and has shown a superhuman ability to break up attacks at one end and break into scoring positions at the other.
Italy are far from being a one-man team. They are a side that has run 328km at this EURO compared to England's 316; a side who can change their formation at will; quarter-finalists who are trying to win the tournament on the back of attractive, free-flowing football.
If England's players are as Balotelli-centric in their approach as some of their columnists, they will be in for an unpleasant surprise on Sunday.
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