By Toby Davis
RECIFE, Brazil, June 19 (Reuters) - Mario Balotelli is a one-man weapon who can take Italy all the way "to the moon" but if he does not keep his mind on the job he will be brought straight back down to earth, his coach Cesare Prandelli said on Thursday.
The mercurial striker is once again set to spearhead Italy's attack as they face Costa Rica in the north-eastern city of Recife on Friday, with both teams jostling for top spot in Group D after opening their World Cup campaigns with victory.
The AC Milan forward's frequently lethargic displays ensure he continues to divide opinion on his place in the pecking order of the game's current top talents.
Yet he showed his undeniable value in the 2-1 victory over England last week by capping a largely anonymous performance with the match-winning goal.
"If we look at the last four years, there are times where he was our weapon, the man who would take us to the moon, then two months later, he was not the same player," Prandelli told a news conference with Balotelli sat beside him.
"What is important is that he concentrates. If he can do that for 90 minutes, then good, if not we will have someone else come in and replace him.
"He can be decisive and important but as in the last match he must give 100 percent."
The irony of the final point was that as Prandelli delivered his verdict, Balotelli's attention seemed to have wandered and his gaze was distractedly looking elsewhere.
The striker had earlier described how the hubbub of the World Cup was not taking its toll on his nerves and how the man with a hot-headed reputation was remaining ice cool.
"I am experiencing this moment with great peace of mind," he said. "I don't feel any pressure, nothing of the sort."
While the heat is not getting to the striker, the Brazilian climate and Friday's 1300 local time kickoff was clearly not to his coach's liking.
He had previously complained about his players not being allowed drinks breaks in their win over England, played in the stifling jungle climate of Manaus. Recife is unlikely to offer any shelter from Brazil's soaring temperatures.
"It would seem that everything remains the same," he said when asked if FIFA would relent and allow stoppages.
"The climate is not normal. Today we simulated the climate and at 1:25pm, it was 29 degrees and 57 percent humidity. After 20 minutes, the clouds cleared and we almost had 40 degrees and 70 percent humidity.
"As far as I am concerned the South American teams have an advantage, not least because they live and work in these conditions and their explosiveness is different to Europeans. Europeans are more resilient, but less explosive."
On the injury front, Prandelli said goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon could return to the starting lineup after missing the first match with a twisted ankle, although the final decision would be left until Friday. (Editing by Ed Osmond)
- Sports & Recreation
- Mario Balotelli
- Cesare Prandelli