Frank Isola: No one made as big an impact at Euro 2012 as Balotelli

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It ended in controversy, of course, because controversy follows Mario Balotelli around like a Spanish defender.

In the aftermath of Spain’s convincing 4-0 win over Italy in the Euro 2012 final, a crying Balotelli at first stormed off the pitch, refusing to shake hands with the champions before being coaxed back to accept his runner-up medal.Later, he was said to have exchanged heated words with Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in the locker room. According to reports, Balotelli blamed several of the Italy’s Juventus players for the loss.

He is also looking for someone else to blame when it was revealed that Balotelli’s ex-girlfriend, Raffaella Fico, is pregnant with his first child. Balotelli, who learned of Fico’s pregnancy prior to his two-goal performance against Germany, has now said he wants to take a paternity test to determine if in fact the baby is his.

At this rate, Balotelli will appear on the Italian version of the “Maury Povich Show” and we’ll dance when he hears the phrase: “Mario, you are not the father.”

Clearly, the guy with the bambino on the way is still something of a baby himself. Balotelli, 21, has a little growing up to do but as far as being a top notch striker he did come of age at the European Championships.Balotelli tied with a group of players as top scorer with three goals in the tournament. His memorable two first-half goals against Germany in the semifinal stunned the favored Germans and made Balotelli a household name.

“This,” Balotelli said after Italy’s 2-0 win over Germany, “is the greatest night of my life.”

Balotelli rose to the occasion after failing to convert several chances against England. In group play, he faltered badly against Croatia and didn’t start against Ireland before recording his first goal as a sub. He also had to endure monkey chants from Spanish fans and had a banana tossed at him by Croatian fans.

He easily could have crumbled mentally, but Balotelli converted his penalty kick in the quarterfinal win over England and then sent Germany back to the drawing board in the semifinal. Italy ran out of answers in the final, losing to a Spain side that is arguably the greatest national team in soccer history.

“I told Mario that these are experiences you have to deal with and have to accept,” said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. “You have to hold your hands up and say the opponents were better, accept defeat. But you also have to make sure this helps you going forward and you can grow from the experience. This has happened to a number of players, and will happen again.”

No one individual player made a bigger impact in the tournament than Balotelli. Cristiano Ronaldo got Portugal to the semifinals but never took his shot when the match against Spain went to PKs. Wayne Rooney was quiet. Balotelli, with his Mohawk styled haircut, was a loud presence.

He is a world class striker with a terrific tournament under his belt. He needs to carry that momentum to Manchester City, stay on his best behavior and continue to develop his game heading into the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. The Euro final left a bitter taste. But Italy will be back. As will Balotelli.

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