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Prandelli relishing Mario challenge
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is enjoying the challenge of coaching Manchester City's temperamental striker Mario Balotelli at Euro 2012.
There had been doubts before the tournament about whether Balotelli - previously dropped by Prandelli due to his disciplinary record on and off the pitch - would make the final squad. But Balotelli repaid Prandelli's faith in him on Thursday night, scoring both goals for Italy as they beat Germany 2-1 to reach the final of the European Championship.
"I have coached Adriano, (Adrian) Mutu, (Antonio) Cassano and Balotelli," Prandelli said in a press conference on Friday. "They are difficult to manage but it's more fascinating. In the end, they are more faithful than those (players) who think they are a champions when they aren't. They are players that have quality and make you win."
Prandelli heaped praise on Balotelli, who turned in his best performance of the competition so far in the semi-final. Balotelli, playing in his first major tournament, had not impressed in the Azzurri's group games in Poland and Ukraine although he did score against the Republic of Ireland.
However, he stole the limelight in Warsaw on Thursday and Prandelli said: "He has enormous potential. He has a good (club) coach in (Manchester City manager Roberto) Mancini, who will help him grow."
Prandelli knows Balotelli will be fired up for Sunday's final - Italy's third in the continental competition and their first since 2000.
"Mario wants to repeat his performance against Germany on Sunday," Prandelli said. "I replaced him with 20 minutes to go against Germany because I feared he had pulled a muscle. Fortunately, it was just a cramp."
The Italians take on holders Spain, who beat Portugal on penalties on Wednesday to reach the final at the Olympic stadium in Kiev. The Azzurri already held Spain to a 1-1 draw in their tournament opener.
"We are physically and mentally stronger than when we faced them in our opening game," Prandelli said. "We only have one day to prepare for this game but we will try to find Spain's weaknesses.
"They are the world and European champions and they are an example to everyone. But we are also there. We have grown and we should not fear them. We have to have the strength to face them with ideas and quality."