MILAN (Reuters) – Maverick striker Mario Balotelli was recalled by Italy for the first time in nearly four years on Saturday as new coach Roberto Mancini named his first squad.
Mancini, 53, was appointed on Monday and handed the daunting task of rebuilding the four-times world champions following their failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Russia.
His first games in charge are friendlies against Saudi Arabia in St Gallen, Switzerland, on May 28, then against France in Nice on June 1 and the Netherlands in Turin on June 4.
Balotelli, who has scored 13 goals in 33 appearances, has not been selected for Italy since the last World Cup when his attitude was the subject of barely-veiled criticism from some senior players.
After scoring in the 2-1 win over England, Balotelli covered the entire Italy page in a Panini album with stickers of himself and then posted it on his Facebook page.
But a recall had been on the cards after he scored 26 goals in all competitions for Nice this season.
Brazilian-born Chelsea defender Emerson Palmieri was one of five uncapped players named in the 30-man squad.
Crotone midfielder Rolando Mandragora, Sassuolo forward Domenico Berardi, Atalanta defender Mattia Caldara and Torino midfielder Daniele Baselli were also given a chance to win their first caps.
Veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had asked not to be called up.
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern,; Editing by Neville Dalton)