Soccer

Mario Balotelli kicks ball into stands in response to racist taunts from fans

AP

Mario Balotelli’s most important kick on Sunday had nothing to do with the curling shot that he whipped into the top corner of the goal from beyond the box.

Rather, it was the drop-kick the Brescia striker made moments earlier when he booted a ball high into the stands to express his frustration at racist chants from Hellas Verona fans.

Balotelli then attempted to leave the field in the most high-profile incident yet in a Serie A season that has been marred by constant episodes of discrimination.

It was the second time this weekend that a Serie A game was suspended for offensive chants, after Roma supporters aimed anti-territorial chants at Napoli on Saturday.

Offensive chants have also been aimed at Romelu Lukaku, Dalbert Henrique, Miralem Pjanic, Ronaldo Vieira and Kalidou Koulibaly in Serie A this season. There was also a case of racist chants aimed by Verona fans at AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie in September.

Visibly upset as he fought for the ball near the corner flag at the end of the stadium where the monkey chants were emanating from, Balotelli had heard enough. He interrupted the action, picked up the ball with his hands and drop-kicked it into the crowd.

Brescia teammates and Verona players went over to embrace Balotelli and persuaded him to stay as the referee ordered a warning to be read out over the stadium’s public address system.

Verona coach Ivan Juric said he didn’t hear any racist chants.

“There was absolutely nothing,” Juric said. “There were a lot of whistles every time he had the ball but not racism. I didn’t hear a single (chant).”

Brescia coach Eugenio Corini also said he didn’t hear the offensive chants but added, “If the referee decided to suspend the match and ask for that announcement to be made something must have happened.

“Honestly, I was far away and I didn’t hear anything,” Corini said.

The match at the Bentegodi stadium was suspended for several minutes with Verona leading 1-0 at the time before it resumed.

Balotelli, who is black, was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants and has represented Italy’s national team. He recently returned to Serie A after several seasons in France.

The 29-year-old Balotelli also experienced racism at the beginning of his career in Italy, when he rose to prominence with Inter Milan.

Verona went ahead 2-0 before Balotelli scored for Brescia and the game ended 2-1.

Balotelli, who did not celebrate his goal, also hit the post in the first half of one of his best performances since joining Brescia — his hometown club — in August.

Verona president Maurizio Setti also said the club didn’t observe any racist chants but added that he talked to Balotelli afterward.

“I apologized to him if someone might have said something,” Setti said.

Balotelli did not speak with reporters after the match.

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