Milan - The Euro 2016 selection hopes of Mario Balotelli have suffered another potential blow after the AC Milan striker infuriated his club coach Sinisa Mihajlovic by failing to heed his instructions.
On-loan Liverpool striker Balotelli has not played for Italy since defeat to Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup ended Azzurri hopes at the first round for a second successive edition.
Although Mihajlovic refused to single out the striker, there was little doubt over the coach's intended target after he had to be held back by assistants when he went for Balotelli at the final whistle of a 2-1 home win over Genoa.
The incident dominated the post-match press conference, and although Mihajlovic tried to play it down, his anger was palpable.
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"I'm not naming any names. All I can say is I made a mistake and that from now on, any player who doesn't give it everything until the 94th minute of the game doesn't play again," said the Serbian.
Balotelli had already fallen down the pecking order with Italy, whose coach Antonio Conte has said he will leave the door open to any player who shows himself worthy of their ticket to France next summer.
After this latest incident, his hopes of leapfrogging several other Italy candidates look even slimmer.
Milan were holding a 2-0 lead at the San Siro when Balotelli was sent on to replace Colombian goalscorer Carlos Bacca for the final two minutes and added-on time, with strict, defensive instructions from Mihajlovic.
During a six-minute cameo appearance, he was called to the touchlines several times by the coach, who was becoming increasingly unhappy with Balotelli's failure to follow the game-plan.
At the final whistle, Mihajlovic, known for his volatile character as a player as much for the stunning free kicks he regularly scored, had to be held back by his assistants as he launched a stinging verbal attack on Balotelli.
Although regarded as one of football's most talented strikers, Balotelli has often been criticised for a perceived poor and at times petulant attitude both on and off the pitch.
He returned to Milan on loan from Liverpool at the start of the season in a bid to resurrect a career that had failed to get off the ground at Anfield.
But his hopes of a Euro 2016 place were first hit when he suffered a groin injury in September, and a subsequent hernia operation left him on the sidelines for three months.
Balotelli, whose brace of goals against Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 sent Italy on to the final, and eventual defeat to Spain, only recently returned to the fray.
Yet despite appearing to have settled back into life in Milan, the striker regularly posting happy pictures of himself alongside positive messages on social media platforms, his latest incident has left question marks over his future as an Italy player.
Conte's preferred strikers during Italy's successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign were Graziano Pelle of Southampton and Sampdoria's Eder, with Ciro Immobile (Torino), Simone Zaza (Juventus), Stephan El Shaarawy (AS Roma) and Manolo Gabbiadini (Napoli) all waiting in the wings.
The emergence this season of Torino striker Andrea Belotti, as well as Sassuolo front man Domenico Berardi, will only make it harder for Balotelli to win over Conte.