Lucky Milan, Super 'Sub' Mario!

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Claudio Villa/Getty ImagesMario Balotelli wasn't scheduled to start, but he was there from kickoff to the dramatic ending at the San Siro. He had a brace, incuding the winning penalty kick.

It was almost inevitable, wasn't it? Making his debut for Milan, 1,001 days since he last appeared at San Siro, Mario Balotelli's brace secured all three points for the Rossoneri against Udinese in a 2-1 win Sunday night. While a horrendous decision presented him with the opportunity to become the match-winning hero, 'Super Mario' wasted little time in making the difference. Welcome home, Balo!

Less than 30 seconds into the game, and Balotelli was a whisker from opening the scoring. Side-stepping a challenge, breaking forward into the box before letting fly with a shot that flicked past the post on its way behind, it was fairly obvious the new arrival was in the mood.

Perhaps it was all part of the script, considering he wasn't even in the initial starting lineup. Giampaolo Pazzini's warmup injury ensured there would be ample time to see the Rossoneri’s new signing in action, as the San Siro appeared undoubtedly busier than usual.

Balotelli delivered midway through the first half to provide the moment many had come to see, twisting and volleying home from Stephan El Shaarawy’s cross. All was going to plan, until Giampiero Pinzi appeared to have spoiled the party with an equaliser in the second half.

However, not to be denied the headlines, as cool as ever even doing ‘keepy-uppys’ as he waited to take his spot-kick, Balotelli just doesn’t miss penalties as he coolly slotted home the winner in injury-time and for once didn’t court controversy.

The penalty itself should never have been given as it was clear Thomas Heurtaux had clipped the ball out for a corner before upending El Shaarawy, but it was given and Milan took away another three points.

“We are strong in attack, even if I haven’t played much and feel my legs are heavy," Balotelli told Sky Sport Italia after the game. "I must work to improve my fitness levels. It is a good start, but now I must continue scoring goals. We deserved to win and in the end we did it.”

The Balotelli on show on Sunday night is the Balotelli mentioned in previous blogs. Tireless, sacrificing himself for his teammates, controlling his temperament and even affording a smile and celebration after scoring - this is the Balotelli that Milan need.

Evidently enjoying linking up with El Shaarawy and Mbaye Niang in an attacking trident that showed extremely promising early signs, it is undoubtedly an exciting trio that will continue to improve the more they play together.

In contrast, there are still question marks over the defence and midfield, as Udinese gradually gained control in the second half and looked set to hold the Rossoneri. Kevin-Prince Boateng will provide an injection of quality, but you feel more is needed.

However, despite the controversy that will surround the win, Sunday night was a clear statement that Balotelli is back. Seemingly happy, it is clear he can and perhaps will play a huge role in bridging what is now just a three point gap to that elusive third spot.

What did you make of Balotelli’s debut? Just three points separate Milan from third place: could you envisage such a turnaround back in November?

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