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Soccer: Italy's Balotelli acquiring 'inner balance'

Forward scored double amid provocation in 2-0 win in Malta

Soccer: Italy's Balotelli acquiring 'inner balance'

Rome, March 27 - Coach Cesare Prandelli has praised the "inner balance" Mario Balotelli is acquiring after the striker ignored provocation and scored a double to earn Italy a 2-0 win in Malta on Tuesday and put them closer to qualifying for next year's World Cup in Brazil. Balotelli made up for a lusterless showing by many of his teammates, converting an early penalty and producing a cool finish to a slick move at the end of the first half, despite being repeatedly fouled by the Maltese. According to some reports, home fans also directed monkey chants at the 22-year-old, who has Ghanaian roots. The forward is widely recognised as having the ability to become one of the world's best strikers, but some have expressed doubts about whether his temperamental streak would enable him to realise his huge potential. He has frequently got himself sent off when provoked by opponents in the past and his career has been dogged by other disciplinary problems and rows with coaches, as well as some bizarre headline-grabbing off-field antics. But Balotelli appears to have found new peace of mind since leaving Manchester City to join AC Milan in January and his form has been excellent. He has scored seven goals in six games for Milan and he also netted a spectacular long-distance effort for Italy in last week's 2-2 draw with Brazil in a friendly, in addition to Tuesday's double. "If he keeps scoring goals with this level of continuity, he will become more and more of a guarantee (for us)," said Prandelli. "The important thing is that he keeps this desire to score goals and doesn't get sated. "But, above all, I want to pay him my compliments for the inner balance that he is finding. "He did well to stay calm and tolerate certain attitudes (from the Maltese). "He knows that he's the one the opponents want to stop, by hook or by crook. They'll always try to provoke him. "He has to get used to not reacting, as he did". Italy lead European World Cup qualifying group B with 13 points from five games, three points more than second-placed Bulgaria, who have played six matches. It is a solid position but Prandelli is looking on the Euro 2012 runners-up to improve on the showing in Malta, where they had the crossbar and a Gianluigi Buffon save from a penalty to thank for them keeping a clean sheet. "The fact that we maintained possession was positive, but we lacked intensity when it came to finishing," said the coach, who has rejuvenated Italy and got them playing an attractive attacking style since taking over in 2010. "There was too much distance between the defence and the midfield. "We have to learn from this and learn to be faster when we meet sides who want to defend tightly".

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