Inter striker Balotelli set for Italy debut
MILAN (Reuters) -- Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli looks poised to make a debut start for Italy in Tuesday's friendly with Ivory Coast, completing a remarkable turnaround from unwanted teenage troublemaker to Azzurri number nine.
The 19-year-old, dropped countless times by former Inter coach Jose Mourinho last term for an array of antics, is likely to start in London alongside fellow debutant striker Amauri and recalled playmaker Antonio Cassano.
"The idea of starting with Balotelli is that I want to use all the attacking potential at my disposal," new Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, who succeeded Marcello Lippi after their woeful World Cup group stage exit in June, told reporters.
Former Fiorentina boss Prandelli allowed players to pick their own shirt numbers for Tuesday, a novel way of building team unity in a squad including nine new call-ups and only eight players from the South Africa debacle.
Balotelli, who is being courted by Manchester City and will be one of only a handful of colored players to have represented Italy, displayed his trademark single-mindedness by immediately grabbing the number nine striker jersey with Cassano taking 10.
"I don't give any importance to numbers even if I understand that historically 10 makes fans think of fantasy," Prandelli added of the creative Cassano, ignored for two years by Lippi because of previous discipline problems.
World Cup goalkeeper Federico Marchetti has left the training base near Florence with a minor injury so Parma's Antonio Mirante has been called up as another new cap.