Mario Balotelli is ready to be taken seriously in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He could not care less for personal feats as long as he hoists the trophy in the end.
While not usually lumped with superstars Neymar or Lionel Messi in the tournament, the forward has gained popularity over other any other Azzurri player in Brazil with Italy's recent win against England. The team is now bracing to face Costa Rica for Friday's match.
"I hope this is Italy's World Cup, not Mario's," he said. "I'm not really interested in being compared with the big stars. In the end it's the squad that wins. I don't want to be a big star. I want to win the World Cup.
"Personally, I want to score as many goals as possible, but the important thing is that the squad wins and advances."
The lone forward in Italy coach Cesare Prandelli's 4-1-4-1 formation, Balotelli hopes to again lead Italy in his first ever World Cup after leading his team capture the 2012 European championship.
"This is the biggest event of my career and I want to give my all," he said. "The World Cup is more important than the Ballon d'Or, the Champions League or the scudetto [Serie A title], so it's only normal that it creates a spark inside of you."
Ballotelli has been the meat of the dailies lately. He made headlines when he proposed to his Belgian girlfriend on moonlit beach a week before the England match.
"The proposal had nothing to do with the World Cup," Balotelli said. "The proposal would have occurred even without the World Cup."
He also tweeted yesterday that "If we beat Costa Rica I want a kiss, obviously on the cheek, from the UK Queen."
ESPN.com reports that Balotelli is coming from an inconsistent showing in his season with AC Milan and has been the subject of rampant trade rumours in recent weeks. Arsenal was reported as to have dangles 30 million pounds to Milan and a contract for Balotelli worth 180,000 pounds a week. The 23-year-olf forward also registered fourteen yellow cards and one red last season while his performance during the eigth place finish of his club at Serie A was generally viewed as modest and mediocre.
The World Cup has changed that and has offered other opportunities for Balotelli. He made the biggest contribution to Italy's cause when he made the winning goal against England in Manaus last Saturday. This Friday, he will be counted on again to provide the goals.
"My focus is 100 percent on the World Cup," he said. "I don't know what will happen afterward. I don't know anything."
His coach who was sitting right next to him during the press conference also weighed in on the up and down performance of his forward.
"If you look at Mario in these four years there have been moments of alarm," Prandelli said. "One moment he's the man who's going to bring you to the top of the world and then a moment later he shouldn't even be at the World Cup.
"The important thing for us is for him to stay focused and play like he did in the last match. If he does that for 90 minutes he could be decisive. He needs to give 100 percent."