I'm right to drop Balotelli – Conte

The Liverpool striker has been overlooked by the new national team boss after an indifferent start to life at Anfield

Italy coach Antonio Conte has defended his decision to drop Mario Balotelli and call up Graziano Pelle in his place.

Southampton striker Pelle has been rewarded for his fine start to life at St Mary’s Stadium with a first international call, while Balotelli has struggled in his first few weeks with Liverpool.

Pelle has five goals to his name in all competitions this term, but Balotelli has scored just once in eight games since moving from Milan. Conte explained that he will be keeping a close eye on the striker’s form, while adding that Pelle deserved his chance with the national side.

“Mario has started a new path. It’s not an easy one and I believe he must be given the necessary time to adapt at Liverpool,” said the former Juve boss.

“We are following him just as we monitor all Italians that play abroad. I make selections not exclusions, which is something completely different.

“Graziano represents what I’ve always said. Meritocracy leads to a place in the national team for a player who in two years has scored 50 goals.

“Today he is becoming a star in the Premier League after an adventure in Holland.

“I am curious to see him from close quarters in order to understand if he can help us. He deserved this call up from all points of view.”

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