Balotelli leading Italy's Milan contingent in Brazil

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Following Italy's progress to the semifinals of the Confederations Cup on Wednesday night with a 3-2 win over Japan, Milan posted a story on their website labelling Mario Balotelli "the new leader of Prandelli's Italy". While that might arguably be the case, the Rossoneri delegation as a whole has been impressive.

Balotelli has been praised by pundits and supporters alike for his level of performance thus far. While that may have come as a surprise to some, Milan fans are familiar with this responsible and hard-working version of "Super Mario".

The 22-year-old appears to have picked up from where he left off at Euro 2012 for the national side, scoring two goals in as many games as the Azzurri, including one in the opener against Mexico.

While questions are being asked as to what the motivation is behind this “new-look” Balotelli, the answer is simple. The former Manchester City striker is now at the centre of projects for both club and country.

Gone are the days of being on the periphery of teams. The explosive striker has both the faith and confidence of both Cesare Prandelli and Massimiliano Allegri, and he now feels important having been installed as the focal point of their lineups.

While there is always a risk of a lapse in his temperament, considering the treatment he receives from opposing defenders who prey on that reaction, the improvement over the last 6-12 months should be applauded.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember the level of trust Prandelli has in his player, and that can only benefit both Milan and the Azzurri as he continues to embark on his quest to be recognised as one of the best in the world.

Balotelli isn’t the only Rossonero to have performed well in the tournament thus far, with Mattia De Sciglio excelling at left-back.

The 20-year-old has taken advantage of the lack of competition and is continuing to mature on the international stage as well as for his club. Aside from a lazy pass which left Gianluigi Buffon in trouble against the Japanese, his work rate, composure and ability have been a shining light in Brazil.

Lazy comparisons continue to label him as “the next Paolo Maldini”, yet as has been discussed previously it is about making his own name and becoming the first De Sciglio as he looks to cement his place in Prandelli’s starting eleven ahead of the World Cup next summer.

While that duo has perhaps been most impressive, other notable performances have come from Ignazio Abate and Riccardo Montolivo. Bias aside, the former has proven over the first two games the right-back berth belongs to him as opposed to Christian Maggio, while “Captain Monty” continues to excel in this more expansive Italian side despite tiredness clearly affecting them in the second group game.

Conclusively, as the club look ahead to next season, it is important that the players on international duty use the experience to their advantage in the campaign ahead. The only regret so far is that Stephen El Shaarawy has been unable to feature alongside them.

But given Prandelli’s troubles with personnel in his preferred tactical set-up, it might not be too long before “Il Faraone” joins the party with Brazil lying in wait on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS/ESPN3/WatchESPN). However, his agent’s latest comments on the "delicate moment" surrounding his future may ensure his mind is elsewhere.

What have you made of the Milan players in Brazil so far? Would you now consider Balotelli as the leader of this Italy team?

For all the latest Milan and Serie A news, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

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