For once he is getting the headlines for all the right reasons. "Incredible Balotelli" read today's Corriere dello Sport; "Amazing Balotelli double" said Tuttosport; "Super Balotelli" gushed Gazzetta dello Sport, and the praise is fully justified.
Mario Balotelli famously made the news last October for accidentally setting fire to his house in England while shooting fireworks out of the window. Last night, the Italy striker put on another pyrotechnic display, but this time around here was no collateral damage, save for the bruised egos and broken dreams of the German players, and perhaps the singed hair of Manuel Neuer.
Once SuperMario had lit the blue touchpaper there was no stopping him. His headed opener exploded past Neuer. His second accelerated beyond the German goalkeeper like a rocket after Balotelli had sprung the offside trap, allowing Riccardo Montolivo's ball to fall in front of him before racing into the area to unleash his ferocious strike.
Before the tournament began, the former FC Internazionale Milano man had played just 19 minutes of competitive international football, and his UEFA EURO 2012 campaign did not start that well. After freezing when through on goal against Spain in the opening match and drawing another blank against Croatia, a goal against the Republic of Ireland after coming on as a substitute – he was dropped for his failure to follow orders – was a reminder of his ability.
For all his pace, power and movement against England in the quarter-finals, the goals did not come, but Prandelli was convinced they would eventually – and he was right. "He gave us depth behind the lines and came back when he had to, so he played a great game," said Prandelli after Balotelli double earned the Azzurri a final spot. "Mario is a modern striker. He has great stamina, and can work hard for the side while also getting into the penalty area."
It is never easy to predict what you are going to get from SuperMario: shoulder-shrugging indifference, open confrontation or, like last night, an unplayable force of nature. It cannot be easy for one so young to be carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. He is still only 21, but Balotelli answered Italy's prayers last night. With the Kyiv final looming, the bad boy is within one more firework display of becoming a national treasure.
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