Mario Balotelli has urged Italy supporters to “wake up” after his goalscoring return to the team was soured by an offensive banner in the stands.
Balotelli scored in Roberto Mancini’s first game in charge – a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia on Monday – but after had a message for supporters that appeared to display a racist message aimed at Balotelli.
Fans at the AFG Stadium in St Gallen, Switzerland, unfurled a banner that read ‘Il mio capitano è di sangue italiano’ which translates into English as ‘My captain has Italian blood’. Police later removed it.
Balotelli is expected to be in contention for a vice-captaincy role in the absence of Daniele De Rossi and Gianluigi Buffon after the pair recently retired from international football. Leonardo Bonucci remains the team’s captain.
The 27-year-old former Manchester City striker posted a message on Instagram in response to the banner, writing: “Guys, we’re living in 2018! Wake up! Please stop with that.”
Balotelli also paid tribute to the former Fiorentina captain Davide Astori, who died suddenly in March. “I know it’s late and that you’re already there … but I am convinced that you were up there watching the game with my Dad today! “This goal, even if it might not mean anything, even if it’s no use to anyone, I dedicate it to you.”
It was Balotelli’s first goal for his country in four years, with the striker opening the scoring after 21 minutes. Andrea Belotti, who replaced Balotelli after 58 minutes, doubled Italy’s lead before Yayha Al-Shehri pulled a goal back.