Italy striker Mario Balotelli has hit back at criticism, some of it racially motivated, of his performance in Italy`s dismal World Cup campaign and made clear he would not become a scapegoat.
With blame flying around after the four-times world champions were eliminated in the group stage for the second time in a row, Balotelli declared he had given his all and his conscience was clear.
His anger was apparent, however, in an Instagram reply to a video posting from an unidentified man telling Balotelli, who is black and adopted after being born to Ghanaian immigrant parents, to leave because he was "not really Italian".
"I’m Mario Balotelli I’m 23 years old and I didn’t choose to be Italian," said the player, who has been subjected to racist abuse before in Italy.
"I wanted it strongly because I was born in ITALY and have always lived in ITALY," he wrote, stressing his point with capitals, in a message to his 790,000 followers.
"I cared deeply about this World Cup and I’m sad, angry and disappointed with myself.
"Don’t dump all the blame on to me alone this time because Mario Balotelli has given everything to this Italy team and hasn’t made any mistake (of character)."
Balotelli scored the winning goal in Italy`s opener against England before the Azzurri lost 1-0 to Costa Rica.
He was booked and substituted at halftime in Tuesday`s 1-0 defeat by Uruguay which erupted into a major controversy when Luis Suarez was seen to bite Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini just before the goal.
Balotelli agreed he had missed chances against Costa Rica but told the critics to look for another excuse.
"Mario Balotelli has a clear conscience and is ready to go forward stronger than ever and with his head held high. Proud of having given everything for his country," he said.
"Or maybe, as you say, I am not Italian. Africans would never dump a `brother`. NEVER. For this us blacks, as you call us, are light years ahead.
"SHAME is not about who misses a chance or runs a bit more or a bit less. THESE THINGS ARE SHAMEFUL. Real Italians! Really?"
Italian media also turned their sights on Balotelli as the inquest got under way, interpreting comments by other players as being aimed at him.
"We need real men, not Panini stickers or characters. These are of no use to the national team," veteran midfielder Daniele De Rossi was quoted as saying after a match that triggered the resignation of coach Cesare Prandelli.
Balotelli had filled a Panini album with stickers of himself, and posted a photograph on his Facebook page, after scoring against England.