It is the latest of many enigmas to have surrounded Mario Balotelli in his short career: why did his Italy team-mate Leonardo Bonucci clamp a hand over the 21-year-old striker's mouth after his goal against Ireland?
Bonucci has been unwilling to shed any light on the matter, but we can reveal that the Italian media's roller-coaster relationship with Balotelli lay behind Bonucci's decision to take preventive action. Balotelli's sister said that journalists who had accused the player of not knowing where the opposition goal is located at this European Championship were about to get a message from her brother when Bonucci intervened.
"When he reacted after his goal against Ireland, it was against the media that he feels makes problems for him," Cristina Balotelli said. "Previously they had been writing that he could not see the goal because he failed in his first match against Spain."
The initial assumption was that Balotelli was about to unleash a reaction to the Italy coach, Cesare Prandelli, for not starting him against the Irish, but there is evidence that the relationship between the two is mellowing. Prandelli seems to be employing the same strategy as Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini – a mixture of tough and nurturing stances – to get through to an extremely unpredictable player.
"There is the same calm character in both his coaches; both are men who talk to the players as well as be firm when they need to be," Ms Balotelli said of Prandelli and Mancini. "The two are very similar. They will both drop him if they think they need to. Sometimes Mario wants to do things his own way but he has to learn."
Balotelli called his sister from Kiev before last night's quarter-final against England. "I felt from his voice he was very relaxed but determined to do well," she said. "I'm sure he feels the pressure of this game but it is like that for everyone. In these situations, where it is easy to freak out, Mario maintains his cool attitude. He keeps very calm before the game and when all the eyes are on him he holds pressure."
Balotelli has not discussed with his sister the racist abuse which cameramen heard being directed at him during Italy's game with Croatia.
England's success costs peanuts
England's team chef has revealed the food he has been feeding Roy Hodgson's players in Poland and Ukraine. Tim De'Ath, who has cooked for Hollywood dignitaries such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Uma Thurman and Johnny Depp, has given each member of the squad a 49-gram "peanut protein blast" twice a day.
De'Ath, nicknamed "Doctor Death" by the players, explained: "The peanut balls are pure protein and they are given out at our snack times around 4.30 in the afternoon and before they go to bed at about 9.30pm." The peanuts, wrapped in a packet called "Bounce", are part of a special five-meal-a-day diet designed to keep the players going.
Portugal play down fracas
Portugal, who are preparing for Wednesday's semi-final against Spain, showed signs of disunity in training on Saturday, as the forward Ricardo Quaresma was seen taking a swipe at defender Miguel Lopes. The pair then hurled verbal abuse at each other and had to be split up. Their team-mate Ricardo Costa, though, played down talk of the unrest. "These are things that can happen in training," explained Costa. "We are virile, we always want to win challenges, and sometimes small incidents happen."Reuse content