Verratti returns but no place for misfiring Balotelli

Marco Verratti has returned to the Italy squad. (AFP pic)

GENOA: Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti returned to the fold but there was no place for misfiring striker Mario Balotelli as Italy coach Roberto Mancini unveiled a 28-man squad Friday.

Italy, who missed out on last summer’s World Cup, host Ukraine on October 10 before meeting Poland in the Nations League in Chorzów four days later.

While midfield orchestrator Verratti’s return is being welcomed with open arms, the same could be said about Balotelli’s widely-expected absence.

Recalled to the Italy squad last month for the first time since the Azzurri’s humiliating first round exit from the 2014 World Cup, Mancini had been hoping the former Inter Milan and Manchester City striker would seize his latest opportunity with both hands.

But Balotelli largely flattered to deceive for Italy last month, especially against Poland, and with club side Nice he has failed to hit the net this season.

Eight games into the Ligue 1 campaign, Balotelli is still goalless and coach Patrick Vieira left him out of his squad to play against Toulouse on Saturday.

In the absence of Balotelli, and of Torino striker Andrea Belotti, Mancini has rolled back the years to recall Toronto FC striker Sebastian Giovinco.

Giovinco, known as the ‘Atomic Ant’ for his lively style, has not played for Italy since 2015. Mancini, meanwhile, also handed a first call-up to Sampdoria front man Gianluca Caprari.

Verratti, meanwhile, returns to the squad having sat out injured as Italy drew 1-1 with Poland and suffered a 1-0 defeat to Portugal last month.

The PSG midfielder was also missing in June when Italy beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 and suffered a 3-1 defeat to France and drew 1-1 with the Netherlands.