Football

Italy interim coach di Biagio says door not shut on striker Balotelli

Interim coach di Biagio says he will continue to monitor in-form striker

Italy's interim coach Luigi di Biagio says the door is still open for maverick striker Mario Balotelli who was once again overlooked for this month's friendlies, despite scoring regularly for French Ligue 1 side Nice.

The 27-year-old has scored 22 goals in 31 appearances in all competitions for the French side this season.

"Numbers and goals are important for forwards, but they have to be linked to a certain type of performance," di Biagio told reporters at the team's training camp outside Florence.

"I have looked, judged and decided... I will continue to follow him and we will see what he does in the next few months."

Balotelli has not been picked by Italy since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Italy face Argentina in Manchester on Saturday morning (Singapore time) and England at Wembley four days later, their first matches since November when they failed to qualify for this year's World Cup in Russia.

Di Biagio, coach of the Under-21 side, has been temporarily promoted to replace Gian Piero Ventura, who was fired after they were beaten 1-0 on aggregate by Sweden in a two-legged World Cup play-off.

"Despite the great disappointment of November, there is no other way but to look forward. We can't change the past," said di Biagio.

"We're not among the best national teams, but we're not among the worst, either.

"If we can start again with a little bit of patience, we can rebuild a strong national team because we have young players who are still developing and improving."

Di Biagio has also included Gianluigi Buffon in the squad after persuading the 40-year-old goalkeeper to reconsider his decision to retire from international football.

"He is here to play, to help me and to give extra value on and off the field. He will play one or two matches. It's not a problem that in Italy there is a tendency to get romantic," said di Biagio. - REUTERS

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