'Prandelli has got best out of Balotelli'
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon believes Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli has succeeded where others have failed in getting the very best out of the unpredictable Mario Balotelli.
The striker's two goals against Germany on Thursday fired Italy into a Euro 2012 final with Spain and transformed the Manchester City player, who has struggled with discipline issues at club level, into a national hero in Italy.
"Mario has done very well thus far because, first and foremost, he has great natural talent and this is a great starting point," said Buffon.
"He has come into a squad where there are a lot of champions, not only in the football sense but champions in general. He's come in and been able to work with a coach like ours who, in a number of ways, has managed to get the best out of him."
Buffon said that while Balotelli himself deserved most credit, the role of his teammates had also been vital - a view that Prandelli agreed with, highlighting the advice the striker has received in the squad's training camp.
"Gigi was right - Mario has found a set-up where he can actually talk to great champions, who have won a lot of trophies, top players who have put a lot of work in to achieve a lot in football," said the Italy coach.
"So there comes a time when you have to be brave enough not only to accept advice, but when your responsibility becomes paramount. After the Croatia game (a 1-1 draw in the group stage) we asked Mario to do certain things and he's doing them very well in that role of central striker now," he said.
From being a player whose frequent incidents led him to wear a tee-shirt enscribed with the slogan "Why Always Me?", former Inter Milan forward Balotelli finds himself at the centre of attention in the continent's biggest game.
The Spanish players certainly know they need to keep a close eye on the forward in Sunday's showpiece in Kiev.
"I think he is a great player," said Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas.
"He had two fantastic moments (against Germany) and scored two great goals. One a true centre-forward's header and the other one from a real cracking shot from outside the area in a European Championship semifinal against a top team like Germany."