Vieira goes on offensive over controversial Balotelli's hidden charm

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The Independent Football

Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli is misunderstood, according to his team-mate Patrick Vieira.

Balotelli was embroiled in a row with Manchester United players at the end of City's FA Cup semi-final victory at Wembley last Saturday, amid claims that Balotelli celebrated towards the United fans, tugging the badge on his shirt, and the Italian has never been far from controversy in his debut season with City.

However, veteran midfielder Vieira, who played alongside Balotelli at Internazionale, has leapt to his team-mate's defence. "That's part of his personality, that's Balotelli's charm," Vieira told Sky Sports yesterday. "I don't think it was a case of provocation, I just think he got carried away. There was some over-excitement, but I think United's players got carried away as well.

"There was more pressure on City's shoulders than United's. As a club and as a team, United are more used to controlling these types of games. For us, it was pure joy because the club has been waiting for this for so long.."

In the final on 14 May, City face Stoke, whose chairman, Peter Coates, has dismissed talk that his club might underperform in their rearranged Premier League game with City three days after they meet in the final, even though a combination of factors could mean a defeat at Eastlands would boost Stoke's chances of qualifying for next season's Europa League.

If Stoke were to lose the final, they could still qualify for next season's Europa League if City finish in the top four in the league. That would send City into the Champions League and mean they would not need the FA Cup's Europa League place, which would go to Stoke. Tottenham, who are scrapping with Manchester City for a top-four place, want the date changed.

But Coates said: "The whole issue is a storm in a teacup. Anybody who knows football and knows Stoke will know we would never go into a game not trying to win, not least because there is a lot of money riding on where a club finishes in the Premier League."