Striker Mario Balotelli has been eliminated by Italy coach Roberto Mancini for the League of Nations match on Monday against European champion Portugal in Lisbon. The good striker Balotelli was criticized for his performance in the first game of the League of Nations against Poland on Friday, where the Azzurri remained 1-1. The 28-year-old was replaced by a muscle problem, and Mancini admitted that his fitness level was a problem. It will be the first match that Balotelli has not played since Mancini took over last May after the devastating lack of four-time winners to qualify for the World Cup.
But Balotelli has made the trip to Portugal with the team, as Mancini considers him a central figure in the team he is trying to rebuild.
Balotelli had played in all four games so far under Mancini, scoring in a 2-1 friendly over Saudi Arabia.
Mancini's other two friendlies were a 3-1 loss to the winners of the World Cup France and a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands.
Lorenzo Pellegrini has also been left out along with Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno, Juventus defender Daniele Rugani and Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo.
Mancini confirmed that Fiorentina forward Federico Chiesa would start after the 20-year-old was key when he arrived last Friday, along with goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
The place of Balotelli could be occupied by Andrea Belotti or Ciro Immobile.
Mancini defended Balotelli from criticism.
"A player knows when he has played well or badly," he said.
"I think Mario knows very well what his performance against Poland was, criticism is part of the game.
"We are only at the beginning of this trip and we will change several players of the Polish game, also to take care of the boys.
"We are ready and we know that it can be a very important match, I will not say it is decisive, since there are two more ahead, but we will face the reigning champions of Europe."
Italy has won six games to four for Portugal in previous meetings, but the Azzurri have not won a match in Lisbon in 31 years.