Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon believes coach Cesare Prandelli is behind team-mate Mario Balotelli’s maturation as a player.
The mercurial yet erratic striker showcased all of his precocious talent as he scored both of Italy’s goals to knock Germany out of Euro 2012 with a 2-1 win in the semi-finals.
Balotelli’s brace – the first, a powerful header after some deft movement in the box; the second, a thunderous strike from outside the box – sees him joint top-scorer at the tournament with three headings into Sunday’s final with reigning champions Spain.
Prior to the tournament, Balotelli’s antics on and off the pitch almost saw him left out of the squad, but Buffon is delighted the 21-year-old made the final cut.
“Mario has been playing very well because before he had all these great qualities, and that is always a good start,” Buffon said.
“He is also part of a fantastic group of players, and he found a great coach like ours, who has made him a better player.
“But obviously the main merit on his improvement is on himself because he has worked hard to reach this level.”
Spain head into the final as favourites but Buffon believes Italy can get over the line given their strong showing in a 1-1 when the sides met earlier in the tournament in Group C.
“I am very happy that Spain are extremely motivated to play a final after winning a World Cup and Euro 2008,” he stated.
“They know now how it is to win and will have a small advantage because of that.
“Spain’s best player? They have so many good players that it is very difficult to state my preference for one.
“It would be a lack of respect to a collective that has dominated the world’s football scene in the last 4-6 years. I respect all of them, cannot just say one.”
The 34-year-old captain hopes to win the tournament for Italy’s loyal fans who he says have stuck behind the team despite recent match-fixing allegations levelled at the domestic game.
“We are there, lads … We are there, fans … We are there, people,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“We are doing it for us, but also for you, who fire me up and take away two hours of every day so I can watch the street celebrations on YouTube.
“For you who never abandoned us, for you who would’ve honoured the shirt the same way we are doing it … but also for The Dream.”