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The controversial defender suggests that the Italy international could be in for an intense reception from his former Inter fans, while warning not to underestimate the Nerazzurri

Marco Materazzi anticipates AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli will be given a "passionate" reception by Inter fans in the Derby della Madonnina on Sunday.

The former Manchester City star grew up in the Nerazzurri's youth ranks before joining their bitter city rivals in January, and the ex-Inter defender believes his presence will be a major factor in Sunday's clash.

"Milan are the favourites with Balotelli, but that is fine for us Inter fans," the former Champions League and World Cup winner declared to La Repubblica. "He is ruthless in front of goal.

"I will always thank him because he took us to trophies, and I expect a passionate welcome for him. As long as it doesn't get dragged into racism, everything is fair.

"I have never seen such a talented player at 17. Milan was his dream, so that he's there now is really no surprise."

The enigmatic forward failed to escape the scrutiny of the press for several high-profile antics that led to disciplinary breaches during his time at Manchester City, but Materazzi has vouched for his character.

"He's a really good person, and has never hurt a soul," he said. "I love him for the way he lives life, like he grew up on the streets. He has healthy fun, not like those who get drunk.

"He simply likes enjoying himself, and is still a big kid at heart. We send hundreds of text messages to each other every day, so we're still good friends."

Casting his eyes to the actual derby, the 39-year-old warned it would be unwise to write off his former team-mates despite their underdog tag.

"When you go without Walter Samuel and Diego Milito, the decline is inevitable. Don't give Inter up for dead though, as they have nine lives," he concluded.

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