REUTERS - Mario Balotelli produced a powerful display and scored on his international return to help 10-man Italy beat Denmark 3-1 in a World Cup Group B qualifier in Milan on Tuesday.
The Manchester City striker’s first Italy goal since his Euro 2012 semi-final brace against Germany and strikes from Riccardo Montolivo and Daniele De Rossi enabled Cesare Prandelli’s side to overcome the sending-off of Pablo Osvaldo early in the second half.
“A goal is a very good thing for me,” Balotelli told Rai before fielding a series of questions about his future, particularly about whether he wants to move to AC Milan.
“This is the best stadium of them all, the most beautiful. The San Siro is a great ground, but if it had been full it would have been better.”
Denmark started brightly with Nicklas Bendtner causing Andrea Barzagli problems in the air, but Italy went closest to taking the lead in the 19th minute when Claudio Marchisio latched on to Balotelli’s cutback and fired in a dipping shot that was only stopped by Simon Kjaer’s goalline clearance.
The Danes could have scored twice in quick succession when William Kvist forced a smart close-range save from Morgan De Sanctis on 31 minutes before Daniel Agger headed the resulting corner over.
But Italy took the lead almost immediately, Riccardo Montolivo finishing off a slick passing move by collecting Balotelli’s flick before drilling a long-range effort past stationary Denmark keeper Stephan Andersen.
They doubled the lead four minutes later when Andrea Pirlo left Michael Silderbauer for dead before swinging in a teasing cross from the right that De Rossi nodded in from six yards.
Morten Olsen’s Denmark side looked dead and buried but pulled a goal back with the last kick of the first half, William Kvist side-footing home a superb volley from a deflected Lars Jacobsen cross from the edge of the area.
The Danes were given another lifeline when Osvaldo was sent off 16 seconds into the second half after tussling with Nicolai Stokholm and lashing out with his left arm, catching the midfielder in the face in full view of referee Damir Skomina.
However, Balotelli restored his team’s two-goal lead with 54 minutes gone, springing the offside trap and poking another magical Pirlo pass past the onrushing Andersen to seal the three points.
“If we want to do well in the World Cup, we need to be a unit and all work together,” Balotelli said.
Italy are now on 10 points at the top of Group B, four clear of Bulgaria who drew 0-0 with the Czech Republic in Prague.
Denmark are stuck on two points and are staring elimination in the face after playing only three games.
Editing by Ed Osmond