Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport has issued an apology to national team striker Mario Balotelli, after a cartoon published by the paper depicted the Manchester City player as King Kong.
The depiction, which the newspaper has described as "misinterpreted", showed Balotelli on the top of Big Ben, swatting away incoming footballs, following Italy's victory over England.
The newspaper's statement read: "Some of our readers have protested regarding (Valerio) Marini's cartoon. Balotelli was depicted as King Kong. We can honestly say it was not among the best products of our talented cartoonist.
"At this time, a measure of prudence and good taste are necessary because everything, absolutely everything, can be misinterpreted. The newspaper is for those who read it and hence, if certain readers found the cartoon offensive, we apologise.
"But those that accuse Gazzetta (and poor Marini) of racism are going overboard. This newspaper has fought any form of racism in every stadium and has condemned the boos directed at Balotelli as an unacceptable form of incivility.''
Balotelli has allegedly been a target of racist abuse at Euro 2012, with incidents reported during the competition. The forward notably threatened to walk off the pitch in the event of abuse before the start of the tournament.
Reacting to the controversial drawing, a spokesman for anti-discrimination group Kick It Out said: "Mario's very presence in the Italian team is symbolic on so many levels. The Italian media ought to champion this individual rather than singling him out as a scapegoat and somehow inferior to his international team-mates."© ESPN