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Disgruntled Liverpool fans ditch Balotelli shirts

Liverpool fans, unhappy with Italian striker Mario Balotelli’s performance since he joined the club, queued on Saturday to swap shirts featuring the footballer’s name with “real” Liverpool stars.

Disgruntled Liverpool fans ditch Balotelli shirts
Irish bookmaker Paddy Power opened a 'Mario Swap Shop' outside Liverpool's Anfield ground on Saturday. Photo: Paddy Power

Supporters spent an estimated €63,425 (GBP 50,000) on the shirts back in August, when Balotelli transferred to the club from AC Milan in a €20 million deal.

But despite a promising debut, Balotelli offended fans during a game against Real Madrid last Wednesday, when he swapped his shirt at half-time with the Spanish side’s defender, Pepe.

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power then seized on the marketing opportunity to open a ‘Mario Swap Shop’ outside Liverpool’s Anfield ground on Saturday morning, giving fans the chance to swap their Balotelli shirts for those featuring the names of "real" Liverpool stars, including Ian Rush and Michael Owen.

Supporters reportedly "queued around the terraced houses" to exchange their shirts with the news ones, which were provided for free by Paddy Power.

“You can understand why the Liverpool fans are getting shirty,” Paddy Power said in a statement.

“The performances have been less Super Mario and more Luigi. The lack of goals wouldn’t be quite as frustrating if he made more of an effort. We stepped in as it seems only fair that if Balotelli doesn’t want his shirt, fans shouldn’t have to keep on going round with his name on their backs.”

Balotelli has scored just once for Liverpool since joining the club.

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FOOTBALL

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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