Balotelli making the most of his first World Cup

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MANGARATIBA, Brazil (AP) - Mario Balotelli is making the most of his first World Cup.

The mercurial Italy forward proposed to his Belgian girlfriend last week, scored the winning goal in the Azzurri’s opening game against England and has won over fans both at the stadium and on social media.

“I’m not surprised, because Balotelli was fundamental at the 2012 European Championship,” Italian football federation president Giancarlo Abete said Monday. “He’s a player with a huge amount of talent and it seems like he’s setting himself up to have a great World Cup.”

Balotelli took advantage of coach Cesare Prandelli’s policy to allow wives and girlfriends into Italy’s training camp by popping the marriage question to Fanny Neguesha on a moon-lit beach at the Portobello Resort & Safari where the Azzurri are based.

Ever since, Balotelli has appeared smiling and focused - whether when receiving congratulations from teammates or finding the target against England with a precise header.

“We hope it helps him during the entire World Cup,” Abete said of the marriage plans.

This is clearly a different “Super Mario” from the one seen with AC Milan just a couple of months ago. Or the player who made more headlines off the pitch than on it during his 2 1/2-season spell with Manchester City.

In April, Balotelli appeared to reach a boiling point when he stormed off the pitch after getting substituted during Milan’s 2-0 loss to Roma. After that match, he had a tense exchange with the Sky Italia TV studio hosts.

“When Milan wins Mario is great, when it loses Mario is bad,” he said.

Told by one studio host that he doesn’t move enough on the pitch, Balotelli responded: “You don’t know anything about football. Trust me.”

His comments provoked plenty of reaction - both supportive and critical - which Balotelli addressed by tweeting: “Mamma mia I divide Italy in 2! Wow!”

His stay with City is remembered most for when he made light of his troubles by unveiling a T-shirt with the slogan “Why Always Me?” during a 6-1 rout of Manchester United in a 2011 Premier League derby.

That came after reports that a fire had broken out at his house when fireworks were let off in his bathroom. And Balotelli escaped punishment earlier in 2011 after throwing a dart at a City youth-squad member. Back in Italy, Balotelli has been questioned in court for spending time in a Naples neighborhood infested by the Camorra crime group.

But with Italy, Balotelli has always been at his best.

He scored both goals when the Azzurri beat Germany 2-1 in the semifinals of Euro 2012 and then converted the decisive penalty when Italy qualified for the World Cup in September with a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic.

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