Football: Balotelli out of tournament, returns to Italy

Italy striker Mario Balotelli will play no further part in the Confederations Cup and is to return home to receive treatment on a thigh injury, team doctor Enrico Castellacci announced on Monday.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) had previously revealed that Balotelli would not play in Thursday's semi-final against Spain after scans revealed a torn muscle in his left thigh.

Italy had hoped he would return to fitness in time for either the final or the third-place play-off on Sunday, but Castellacci ruled out that possibility and said the 22-year-old striker would now return to AC Milan.

"This morning we carried out some tests, but the medical conditions are not satisfactory and the player cannot recover between now and the final on Sunday. We prefer not to take any risks," Castellacci said during a press conference in Fortaleza.

"In agreement with the coach (Cesare Prandelli), it was decided to send him back to Milan after speaking to the medical staff at AC Milan, who will look after him."

Prandelli said there had been no pressure from Milan for Balotelli to be allowed to return and refused to go into detail when he was asked who would take his place in the starting XI.

"Without Mario, we need to work even more at a collective level," he said.

"We'll have players with different characteristics, but the aim is to make the team even more compact."

Concerning midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who missed Saturday's 4-2 loss to Brazil with a calf injury, Castellacci said: "He is continuing to work and we're moderately optimistic.

"In his case, we have to evaluate his condition day by day. It will be decided at the last moment if he's able to play or not."

Castellacci was more upbeat about Pirlo's fellow midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, who had to go off against Brazil after taking a blow to the head.

"He's doing well and we think he'll be available for the coach," said the team doctor.

Spain swept through the group phase, winning all three games and enjoying a record-breaking 10-0 win over minnows Tahiti, and Prandelli said the world and European champions would start as clear favourites.

"They're a team who are practically impossible to beat. They're the best team in the world, they've shown it for four or five years," said the former Fiorentina coach.

"They will without doubt have more ball possession, but they're not a perfect team either.

"We have to try to produce a balanced match until the end. We have to play with pride and prepare something different. Spain can motivate you from a tactical point of view, pushing you to do something innovative."

Italy were soundly beaten 4-0 when they last faced Spain in the final of Euro 2012, but irrespective of Thursday's outcome, Prandelli believes his players have shown signs of real improvement at the Confederations Cup.

"I'm convinced that this experience will be useful," he said.

"Lots of players have made great laps forwards, in terms of both temperament and professionalism. Playing like they did in the second half against Brazil, and in Brazil, is not an easy thing."