GREAT WRITING to match a front page lead in today's New York Times sports page. Incidentally, the flamboyant 21-year-old Mario Balotelli is one of two players on Italy's squad of African descent. His rise to prominence has exposed the ugly underbelly of European racism, whose neo-Nazi and fascist history is still alive in a resurgent Right, laid bare by Europe's economic crisis and growing resentment against immigrants from African and Arab lands."KIEV, Ukraine — The long diagonal pass floated across midfield, its accuracy all the more remarkable for its distance. Waiting with impeccable timing was Mario Balotelli of Italy, one of soccer’s most gifted and eccentric players. He sprinted past the German defense and turned to meet the ball, nimbly switching directions, backpedaling with the gliding agility of a man on skates.The Germans gave chase, but it was desperate and futile. Already they must have known they would arrive too late. Thirty-five yards from goal, maybe 40, Balotelli let the ball bounce and tap his chest. And he was off again, racing, touching the ball once with his left foot, reaching the edge of the penalty area, the German captain Philipp Lahm in furious and vain pursuit.Now Neuer (the German goalkeeper) was exposed again, flat-footed, as Balotelli dashed at him. He shot with such power and slicing accuracy that the ball kept rising and swerving until it punched like a fist into the upper right corner of the net. Italy 2, Germany 0. Television cameras caught Joachim Löw, the German coach, picking his fingernails. His team’s chances, probably like his nails, were down to the quick.Balotelli kept running and removed his azure jersey and finally stopped, flexing his tattooed and chiseled arms and torso. Athletic tape fanned across his lower back like slats of an Adirondack chair. He remained unsmiling, his stare defiant, as a teammate ran up to hug him in celebration."
Mario Balotelli was yellow-carded for this defiant affirmation of self, a counter-taunt to the racists. He shrugged off the howls of protest, saying: “They saw my physique and they’re jealous.”
|photo excerpt, courtesy Getty images: Michael Regan.|