Leonardo Bonucci has explained why he ‘gagged’ Mario Balotelli after the Manchester City striker volleyed the second goal in the 2-0 Euro 2012 Group C victory over Ireland.

“What he said [when he scored], he said in English and I didn’t understand,” the defender, who replaced the injured Giorgio Chiellini, said. “So I put my hand in front of his mouth just in case, because Mario is instinctive but that is also his strength.” Cesare Prandelli, the Italy coach, said Balotelli had to recognise that “you’re not playing on your own, there’s a whole team around you who can help” and the group mentality among the Azzurri was clearly visible at full-time.

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They were overjoyed when they heard Vicente del Bosque’s Spain had beaten Croatia 1-0 in the other Group C match, where a 2-2 draw would have sent Italy out, leading Italian media to become obsessed with fears of a possible fix which they call a “biscuit”.

Gazzetta dello Sport said, “Thank you Del Bosque” on its front page. The Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon agreed: “In the last few days I have remained calm because I was convinced Spain, who we owe a big thanks, would behave like a great team. We are staying until June 24 which is the minimum objective we set ourselves.”


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