Bonucci has praised the maturity shown by the rejuvenated Mario Balotelli. The Italy striker asked the Italy fans to “wake up” as he marked his return to the national team setup with a goal. His return was almost soured with offensive banners in the stands but the mentally prepared player put that behind him to score under Coach Roberto Mancini. Italy trounced their rivals Saudi Arabia 2-1 to get off to a flying start under Mancini, who has been tasked with rebuilding the squad.

Despite the racist messages the fans displayed, seemingly aimed at the former Manchester City forward, the player put it all behind them at the game played at the AFG Stadium, St Gallen Switzerland.

Balotelli is in line to be the vice-captain of the team following the retirement of Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi. Buffon and De Rossi decided to end their time in the national team following the failure to make the World Cup in Russia. Leonardo Bonucci remains the skipper while Balotelli is expected to make a case as the assistant.

The 27-year old responded to the racist messages by posting on his Instagram page: “Guys, we’re living in 2018! Wake up! Please stop with that.” Some of the racist banners were removed in the course of the game by the police and stadium officials.

The goal he scored justified his inclusion in the national team after seeing resurgence in his career at Nice. He netted 43 times in 66 games across all competitions. Andrea Belotti doubled Italy’s advantage before Yayha Al-Shehri pulled one back for Saudi Arabia.

Bonucci hailed the level of maturity shown by Balotelli as it largely contrasts to his old self. The AC Milan star said it was strange not to be with De Rossi and Buffon in the national team but added that they remain his friends for a lifetime. Mancini is expected to turn around the Italian setup and help them qualify and impress at the forthcoming European Championship in two years.

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