Italy coach Ventura to talk to Balotelli before naming squad

FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura will talk to forward Mario Balotelli about the possibility of joining the team before the Azzurri's next set of matches in March.

Balotelli has revived his career in France, scoring eight goals in as many matches for Nice, but has not played for Italy since the 2014 World Cup.

''I will talk with Balotelli before the next call-ups,'' Ventura said. ''His technical qualities are not up for discussion, but as my predecessors have also said there are other things concerning him that need to be evaluated.''

Italy was eliminated in the first round of the World Cup, where Balotelli was considered a distraction by several teammates. He was also involved in high-profile incidents when playing in England.

After scoring only one league goal in each of the past two seasons with Liverpool and AC Milan, Balotelli never played for Italy under coach Antonio Conte.

But Balotelli joined Nice in the offseason as a free signing from Liverpool, and is relaunching a chaotic career where he has often stood out for controversial incidents on and off the field.

''No one doubts that Mario is a talented player and I have nothing against him,'' Ventura said. ''But for every player, not just Balotelli, what counts is the ability to be part of a group, to make sacrifices and share an understanding.

''There are those who are used to doing so and others who aren't. After the conversation I will have with him, he will have to ask questions of himself, and above all give himself answers.''

Italy hosts Albania in a World Cup qualifier on March 24 before playing the Netherlands in a friendly international four days later.

The Azzurri are level with Spain at the top of Group G, with only the top team guaranteed an automatic spot in Russia.

Ventura replaced Conte after this year's European Championship, where Italy lost its quarterfinal match to Germany on penalties.

''As a mark so far I would give a good passing grade for the results but for everything else there's still a lot of work to do,'' Ventura said. ''My wish for 2017 is a team which qualifies for the World Cup and goes there to win it, there are all the foundations to do something important.''

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