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Chiellini defends Balotelli

12 November 2014, 19:31

Milan - Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini has played down suggestions Mario Balotelli could have an unsettling influence on the Italy squad after a controversial call-up for a key Euro 2016 qualifier against Croatia.

Balotelli, who has not played for the Azzurri since their disastrous first round exit from the World Cup in Brazil, has been included in Antonio Conte's 26-man squad for Sunday's crucial Group H clash at the San Siro in Milan.

Conte's decision surprised many football obeservers, with speculation that he had been included to appease sponsors Puma -- who pay part of Balotelli's salary -- or that he was a late inclusion for injured attacking midfielder Lorenzo Insigne.

Although Chiellini did not go as far as saying Balotelli has been welcomed with open arms, the Juventus veteran told reporters on Wednesday: "Until now Balotelli has been training well and that's what counts.

Also read: Mixed reviews as Balotelli returns to Italy squad

"For you (media), what counts is how many times he sneezes, goes to the toilet, calls his mum or his girlfriend.

"All we care about is the squad, winning on Sunday and this is something you can't do on your own, we have to do it together."

Balotelli became a media scapegoat in the wake of Italy's disastrous World Cup in Brazil and has now become a target for the English tabloids since moving from Milan to Liverpool, where he has yet to score a league goal for the Reds.

Chiellini said Balotelli was not to blame for Italy's poor World Cup showing, but reminded the misfiring striker that national team duty is not to be sneezed at.

"We can't point the finger at Mario for the World Cup, because there was no blame," he added.

"When you walk into the national team dressing room you automatically put yourself at the service of the team and the coach, who makes the decisions.

"Everyone is important, if they put themselves at the service of the team, no one is indispensable or more important than the others.

Croatia top Group H and sit ahead of Italy, who have also won their three opening qualifiers, thanks to superior goals difference.

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