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Soccer: Balotelli to miss Spain semi-final

Star Italy striker suffered thigh injury in 4-2 defeat to Brazil

Soccer: Balotelli to miss Spain semi-final

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, June 24 - Italy are set to be without Mario Balotelli for Thursday's Confederations Cup semi-final against world and European champions Spain. The star striker suffered a thigh injury in Saturday's 4-2 defeat to Brazil in the Azzurri's final group game. "At the moment it's very, very unlikely that he will be able to recover in time for Thursday's match," Italy team doctor Enrico Castellacci told ANSA. The 22-year-old's tournament may not be over though, if the Azzurri manage to exact revenge for their 4-0 defeat to Spain at the final of Euro 2012 last year to reach Sunday's final at the world famous Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. "It is possible to try for (the final on) Sunday, if the player and the coach agree," said Castellacci. "We'll assess his condition every day and then we'll decide. "At the moment, it's not possible to say too much about which way it will go". Balotelli is not the only injury headache for Italy, who qualified for the Confederations Cup last four by beating Mexico 2-1 and Japan 4-3 before going down to hosts Brazil. Balotelli's AC Milan teammate Ignazio Abate will take no further part in the competition, which is designed to help Brazil prepare for next year's World Cup, after injuring his shoulder in Saturday's match. But it is not all bad news. Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, another Milan man, is getting better after coming off because of a knock to the head against Brazil. Prandelli also hopes to have playmaker Andrea Pirlo back after he missed Saturday's defeat with a calf problem and fellow midfielder Daniele De Rossi will be available after serving a suspension. The Italian players have done well to combat the fatigue of long seasons with their clubs and the intense summer heat to make the semis at the tournament. The scoreline of Saturday's defeat to Brazil, only Italy's second in a competitive game since Prandelli took over in 2010 after the Euro 2012 final, was flattering to the home side. But the Azzurri have admitted to being concerned about the number of goals they have conceded, eight in three matches, especially since defence is traditionally the forte of Italian sides. "We have to analyse well what's happened and what hasn't worked," said defender Christian Maggio. "We conceded some goals from free kicks that should not have been given. "I don't think it's a problem (solely) of the defence". The Confederations Cup, which takes place the year before a World Cup in the host nation and features the world champions and the champions of the continents, is not considered a major tournament. But Italy's failure at the 2009 Confederations Cup proved to be a foretaste of the then-holder's embarrassing group-stage exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. So Prandelli has told his side he wants them to take the competition seriously this time. Italy have qualified for the Confederations Cup as Euro 2012 runners-up because European champions Spain already had a slot as world champs.

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