Near the beginning of today’s Euro Cup semifinal game between Italy and Germany, the ESPN2 announcers wondered which Mario Balotelli would show up. There are two different versions of the 21-year-old striker, they said: Crazy Mario and Super Mario.
Crazy Mario is the guy who sets his house on fire by launching fireworks out of his bathroom. He’s the guy who’s had famous spats with coach Jose Mourinho, has fought a number of times on the pitch, has sword-fought with rolling pins, and is generally considered some combination of dumb, immature, and dumb. He’s the guy who had £5,000 in his pocket when he crashed his car, and when cops asked why he was carrying so much money, his answer was “because I am rich.”
Super Mario, on the other hand, is a budding superstar in the soccer world. He’s a striker for Manchester City, scored 17 goals for the team, and played an important role in the club’s Premier League championship. He’s now a critical piece of Italy’s national team, a dangerous and versatile striker who is a rare mix of big, fast, and strong.
Super Mario showed up today. In the 20th minute, Super Mario flicked his mohawked head at a curling cross from fellow striker Antonio Cassano, and buried the ball behind Manuel Neuer’s outstretched arms. 16 minutes later, he took of running for a long, lingering ball from Riccardo Montolivo. The ball flew over nearly everyone else on the field, and Balotelli took a two-step lead before the ball reached him, about 20 yards out. A quick touch across his body later, he buried the ball in the back of the net with a shot so hard it’s sort of surprising the net didn’t tear. (Actually, that would be awesome: make it so that really hard shots will rip the net, the way thunderous dunks can shatter the backboard. That would be epic.)
Of course, Crazy Mario’s never far away: Balotelli got a yellow card about five seconds later, when he ripped his shirt off and stood flexing inside the Germany penalty box, looking vaguely as if he was going to murder someone.
Italy’s next opponent is Spain, on Sunday in the Euro finals. Spain’s looking to become the first team to ever repeat as Euro champions; Balotelli’s going to be critically important if Italy wants to stop that. If Super Mario shows up on Sunday, we should have a hell of a game on our hands.