Andrea Pirlo has dismissed the suggestion that Mario Balotelli is a burden on his Italy team-mates, insisting that the enigmatic striker has an important role to play in the country's Euro 2012 campaign.
Balotelli came in for some criticism for his performance against Spain on Sunday in which he was guilty of wasting a clear cut chance on goal after robbing Gerard Pique of possession, with his replacement Antonio Di Natale subsequently firing Italy into the lead.
There have been calls for the Manchester City forward to be dropped for Thursday's crucial clash with Croatia, but Pirlo is confident that the 21-year-old striker will prove his worth to the Azzurri before the tournament is out.
“From my point of view, Balotelli is not at all a weight upon the team," the Juventus playmaker told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday. "He is a player that can be, and I believe will be, important for us."
Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi has already underlined his importance to Cesare Prandelli's panel by filling in at centre-back against the Spanish and turning in a commanding display as Italy claimed a deserved 1-1 draw.
"I consider him of added value to our team because he can also play at the back," Pirlo admitted. "He can start moves for us because he has different characteristics to a normal defender."
Italy's next outing in Group C, against Croatia in Poznan, will get under way at 18:00CET.