By Carlo Garganese
From the moment Giampaolo Pazzini sustained a muscular injury in the pre-match warm-up, one could just sense that the night was set up for Mario Balotelli to steal the show.
The San Siro ripped out a huge roar as it was announced that AC Milan's new darling had been promoted from the bench for an immediate starting debut against Udinese. The atmosphere in the Stadio Meazza was already electric - despite the empty seats - and the same fans who mobbed their hero when he arrived in the fashion capital on Wednesday, now pushed up the energy levels even higher.
Despite being well below match fitness, having barely featured for Manchester City over the past couple of months, it took less than 30 seconds for Balotelli to demonstrate just what a massive impact he is likely to have on the Rossoneri. With his first touch, the 22-year-old skipped past two opponents and fired inches wide.
Milan's young forward trident, with Balotelli in the middle and Stephan El Shaarawy (20) and M'Baye Niang (18) to his left and right respectively, has already been tipped for great things. A mixture of devastating pace, power, flair and fantasy, the trio will frighten defences all over the land.
Some would argue they already form the best attack in Serie A - even if Totti, Osvaldo and Lamela at Roma may disagree - and they took little time to conjure up an understanding. Balotelli's brilliant, blind, flick around the corner sent Niang through on goal, only for goalkeeper Daniele Padelli to come to Udinese's rescue.
It was Balotelli who inevitably broke the deadlock. El Shaarawy's cross from the left located Balotelli, who fired the ball past Padelli and even afforded himself a rare goal celebration and a smile. Just another sign that he has found his real home in Lombardy.
Goal.com's best transfer of the January window was dropping deep, allowing the lightning-quick El Shaarawy and Niang to exploit the space in behind him, while the triad's flexibility in switching positions was also a nightmare for the Udinese defence. While this was only one game, El-Ba-Ni really do look the part.
Balotelli almost doubled his and Milan's tally before half-time with a beautiful curling effort from 25 yards, and he later helped set up Niang, who crashed against the bar.
Giampiero Pinzi's deflected equaliser against the run of play temporarily rained on Balotelli's parade, but 'Super Mario' was not to be denied. Deep into injury time, Milan were gifted a penalty to win the game following a shocking refereeing call. Paolo Valeri deemed Thomas Heurtaux's clean tackle on El Shaarawy to have been a foul.
Balotelli doesn't miss penalties - he hasn't missed one in his entire professional career. According to former team-mate Joe Hart, he only ever failed once in training during two-and-a-half years at Manchester City.
It was the perfect ending to a perfect debut. With Milan's forward trio having the potential to be together for the next decade, there are sure to be some exciting episodes ahead for the Balotelli show.
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