Champions League semifinal: Balotelli racism tiff taints Inter Milan's win over Barcelona
Inter Milan beat Barcelona 3-1 Tuesday night to win the first leg of the Champions League semifinal, but the victory was tarnished by striker Mario Balotelli throwing his jersey to the ground at the end.
It was a night to remember for Inter Milan soccer fans.
Their team had just handed the glorious Barcelona squad a solid, 3-1 drubbing in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal.
But the morning after, the victory is tarnished by the image of an angry Mario Balotelli throwing his Inter Milan jersey to the ground in disgust at the end of the match.
"Super Mario," the teenage Italian striker of African descent, came in off the bench with 20 minutes left in the game only the be jeered by the hometown crowd, something he quickly attributed to racism.
As the Monitor has reported over the years, racist fans have been a problem for European soccer, perhaps nowhere moreso than in Italy. The summer before last the Italian city of Bologna hosted the Anti-Racist World Cup tournament in a bid to tackle the problem.
Balotelli is no stranger to racism. Last year, the Italian soccer federation ordered the Juventus team to play one match in an empty stadium as punishment for racist insults hurled by fans at Balotelli.
But Balotelli has also earned a reputation as prima donna, and his teammates seemed to have little sympathy for his reaction last night.
"He's like a child," said Inter Milan midfielder Dejan Stankovic.
"(I am) disappointed that a celebration was ruined with something like this" said Inter captain Javier Zanetti, indicating that the fans may have been jeering his performance, not his skin color. "If the fans whistle at him he's got to understand that it could depend on a lot of different things."
"I saw that Materazzi was attacking him in the players' tunnel and I've never seen anything like it," Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic told the Italian TV channel, RAI. "If I were him, I'd have left Mario alone, but Materazzi was attacking him and I was stunned. If Materazzi had attacked me like that, I would've decked him in a second!"
(Readers may recall that Materazzi was the one who goaded French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane into headbutting him during the 2006 World Cup finals, according to Mr. Zidane, by using vulgar remarks about his mother.)
Balotelli found little respite in the parking lot after the match, reports the soccer website, tribalfootball.com.
Security staff were forced to intervene in order to lead him to safety.
“He’s a youngster, this thing happened and in all honesty I’d prefer to think about the victory,” said [Inter Milan] President Massimo Moratti.
“This is a wound that will heal and could be a life lesson that’ll prove useful for him.”
It's unclear what exactly Mr. Moratti was referring to as the life lesson for Balotelli.
Meanwhile, for fans in Italy and beyond, the debate over whether Balotelli is an innocent victim punished for trying to stand up to racial abuse or a petulant youngster who brings legitimate criticism upon himself rages on.