WARSAW: A spectacular goal followed by a shirtless show of defiance to the world at the European Championship. It could only be Mario Balotelli.
The sequence of events in Italy's 2-1 semi-final victory over Germany on Thursday summed up everything about the mercurial striker -- hugely talented, and highly volatile.
Having just scored his second goal of the night, Balotelli tore off his Italy jersey and stood motionless as his teammates ran to congratulate him -- closely followed by the referee to book him for the gesture.
His explanation for the impressive show of tattooed muscle was also typical Balotelli.
"If anyone is angry for my celebration, it's because they saw my physique and they're jealous," he said.
Jealousy or not, Balotelli has been through plenty of emotions himself for such a short tournament. He struggled to find his form in the early stages and, as a black player, was the victim of racist abuse from fans of both Croatia and also Spain, the team Italy will now face in tomorrow's final in Kiev, Ukraine.
The scoring drought ended against Ireland with a superb solo goal. But only the prompt intervention of Leonardo Bonucci, who rushed over and put his hand over Balotelli's mouth, spared him from disciplinary action as a flood of emotion emerged from the 21-year-old forward.
On Thursday, though, everything went Balotelli's way. From his well-taken header in the 20th minute to his ferocious shot on the break in the 36th.
"At the end of the match I went over to my mother and told her, 'These goals are for you.' I waited a long time for this moment, especially because my mother came all the way here and I wanted to make her happy," he said. "This is the greatest evening of my life, but I hope Sunday will be even better."
Victory in the final would eclipse what has just been a highly successful season at club level with Manchester City, albeit with the unavoidable dash of controversy thrown in.
Balotelli helped City win their first league title since 1968, though the season was also memorable for a visit by two fire engines to his home in October after a firework caused a fire in his first-floor bathroom.
A crowd favourite at Eastlands, he now sees his future with the Premier League.
Asked Thursday if he would return to Italy, Balotelli said: "I'm not coming back now. The City fans always want what's best for me, even though they're English and I contributed to eliminating their national squad." AP