Fifteen fans welcome Italian team home

A group of just fifteen fans welcomed the Italian national side home at Milan’s Malpensa airport on Thursday after the team was booted out of the World Cup in the group stage of the tournament.

Fifteen fans welcome Italian team home
Italy's captain and goal-keeper Gianluigi Buffon. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Having had his hopes of a kiss from the British Queen dashed, a downcast-looking Mario Balotelli, sporting a newly dyed blond mohawk, cap and big headphones, was among the first to leave the airport, La Repubblica reported.  

The striker, who had his new fiancée Fanny Neguesha by his side, had every reason to look disappointed after being hit with racist slurs on social media after Italy’s lacklustre performance in its final group stage game against Uruguay on Tuesday.

In a terse response on Instagram on Wednesday to comments that he “is not Italian”, Balotelli, who scored a goal in the first group game against England, said: “Maybe, as you say, I’m not Italian. The Africans would never dump their ‘brother’. NEVER".

Cesare Prandelli, the coach who resigned after Italy’s exit, greeted awaiting reporters, while captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon stopped for a few moments but refused to talk about Balotelli.

“I'm not talking about Balotelli," he said. "We gave a poor show.”

A small group of 15 fans awaited the team, with one appreciative boy shouting to Buffon, “Great Gigi, thanks all the same”. Some of them asked players for autographs.

The Italians fared slightly better fan-wise than their English counterparts, who returned home on Wednesday without a single supporter to greet them, according to reports in the British media.

Meanwhile, Juventus star Andrea Pirlo, 35, has reconsidered his decision to leave the national side

“If the next coach asks me to come back, then I would be available," he was quoted in La Stampa as saying.  "I always like to play in this [the blue] shirt.”

A flight with players including Daniele De Rossi on board was delayed to Rome by an hour after the capital’s Fiumicino airport was closed due to thunderstorms and lightning on Thursday.

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