Mario Balotelli was back on the goal trail this week, keeping Nice’s title ambitions alive with a 2-2 home draw against Caen.
Although they have slipped five points behind leaders Monaco, a defeat would surely have been critical in their hopes of lifting the Ligue 1 crown, but that is exactly where they appeared to be heading as they fell 2-0 behind with less than a quarter of the match to go.
Until that point, Balotelli had not had a great influence on the game, yet he pounced following a free kick to scramble his side back into the match. Five minutes later, Stathis Donis fired a shot off both posts and into the net to draw them level. Lucien Favre’s side could not find a winner, but at least their championship aspirations remain realistic.
Unlike some players, who prefer to ignore football when not playing, Mario follows the sport closely and celebrated Dries Mertens’ goal for Napoli against Real Madrid on Twitter, though the Serie A side would ultimately be eliminated.
Merteeeeens.. e uno! — Mario Balotelli (@FinallyMario) March 7, 2017
It was clear he was keeping a close eye on events at Camp Nou, where Barcelona executed an astonishing comeback to defeat Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League 6-1, and he paid particular homage to Neymar.
The Brazilian was in outstanding form for the Catalans as he scored twice in the dying seconds to guide them through, against the French champions – a team that Balotelli has trolled in the past. However, with Nice now trailing PSG in Ligue 1, he chose instead to praise the forward, posting simply: “Crack.”
Perhaps inspired by the Barca star, the Italy international has notably been in touch with his Brazilian side away from the field. Nice centre-back Dante, a long-time member of the Selecao squad, is a keen ukelele player, and Balotelli was delighted to be central to a pagode jam – a traditional style of music from the South American nation – that the veteran was enjoying.
Not only was the 26-year-old serenaded by his team-mate, he also had the opportunity to test out Dante’s haircut. Who knows where Balotelli found the wig from, but it’s a strong bet that the striker, who is notoriously flambouyant with his choice of haircuts, will not be dabbling in the wild afro of his colleague. Nevertheless, Mario seemed to enjoy it while it lasted.
Capoeira, the graceful Brazilian martial art, was probably not on his mind earlier this week when he was embroiled with goalkeeper Yoan Cardinale in a training room wrestling match. However, there was clearly nothing malicious in the bout.
Nice’s first-choice goalkeeper has often been on the receiving end of Balotelli’s pranks this season, but on this occasion he was forced to the ground by his team-mate, who looked in complete control of the battle, which left team-mates scrambling for cover. The Italian got in position to execute an arm bar, but perhaps wisely thought better of it before letting his opponent free.
Indeed, Balo has been all about the love this week and took the chance to wish all the women in his life ‘Happy International Women’s Day’ last Wednesday. In particular, he singled out his daughter, Pia and his mother.
Now he must go back to focusing on his own game. With 10 matches of the season left, his importance to Nice continues to grow, not least because they have lost Alassane Plea and now Wylan Cyprien to season-ending knee ligament injuries.
Balotelli has yet to find the net away from home in Ligue 1 still, and if he cannot on Saturday when Nice go to Nantes, there is every chance their title dreams could be ended at Stade de la Beaujoire.