'He's not a shadow cast over us' - Balotelli's 'replacement' for Italy

Simone Zaza spoke kindly of Mario Balotelli as Antonio Conte has again left the Liverpool striker out of the Italy squad.

Azzurri boss Antonio Conte caused quite a stir when he left Mario Balotelli out of his first Italy squad last month.

The former Juventus coach has since faced a barrage of questions on whether the controversial 23-year-old will be brought back into the Nazionale.

Replacing Balotelli in the side was Sassuolo starlet Simone Zaza, who quickly endeared himself to Italian fans with his high work-rate and crucial goal against Norway.

A number of Italian media outlets have since urged Balotelli to emulate the Neroverdi man to win his spot back, whilst others have advocated for him to be permanently left out.

Balotelli has laboured at the outset of his Liverpool career and is yet to find the net in the Premier League. And when Conte’s squad for Italy’s Euro 2016 qualifiers with Azerbaijan and Malta was announced this week, he was omitted yet again.

Like Conte, Zaza has been asked incessantly about his countryman but has remained diplomatic and been complimentary of the Reds hit man.

In a press conference on Wednesday, the Azzurri new boy shared his reverence for Balotelli and said he’d welcome the Liverpool forward’s inclusion in the squad.

Zaza said: “Mario is one of my favourite strikers, everyone knows his quality and I see him as someone who could stay in this Nazionale.

“He’s not a shadow cast over us. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, so I’d like to do that.”

If and when Balotelli does return to the Azzurri fold, he’ll face an uphill battle to get on the pitch in part due to his counterpart Zaza.

Whilst Balotelli was a nailed-on starter under Cesare Prandelli, Conte has chosen to partner Ciro Immobile and Zaza in attack and looks intent on developing their partnership.

The Liverpool man in turn would likely have to settle for a bench role somewhere down the line, something he is unaccustomed to for club or country.

First he’ll have to find his feet at Anfield, however, and only when he does, then can go about demonstrating to Conte he’s ready to fall in line with the current philosophy in the Italy camp.

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