* Balotelli and Monti are Italian heroes
* Victories seen as revenge on Germany over debt crisis
* Balotelli success may help the fight against racism in
By Barry Moody
ROME, June 29 Italy revelled on Friday in the
successes of its two "Super Marios", one on the soccer field and
the other at a European summit - both seen as taking sweet
revenge on inflexible euro zone paymaster Germany.
Italy's 2-1 victory over Germany in the Euro 2012 semi
final, spearheaded by forward Mario Balotelli, unleashed hours
of ecstatic celebration on the streets of the country on
Thursday night and a wave of joyous newspaper headlines, many
gloating against Germany.
It was widely paired with Prime Minister Mario Monti's
success at the Brussels summit, where he pushed German
Chancellor Angela Merkel into dropping objections against the
use of European bailout funds to contain the borrowing costs of
stricken euro zone countries Italy and Spain.
The unexpected victory against Germany was seen as far more
significant than merely sealing the rebirth of Italy's soccer
team after a disastrous 2010 World Cup, even raising hopes that
Balotelli's new status as an Italian hero would help reduce the
blatant racism from which he has suffered all his life.
The victory was clearly sweeter because Germany was the
victim. "Germany goes home and only the presumed weak nations of
the euro zone remain on the field," said Rome's Il Messaggero
"They might be the bosses of Europe, but not in football. In
football we are the Germans," said the respected Corriere della
"It would be a mistake to consider Italy-Germany as if it
was just a football match. Football is also economy, also
politics," said the paper's sports writer Aldo Cazzullo.
Two newspapers close to former Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi headlined their front pages with obscene attacks on
Merkel. Il Giornale, owned by Berlusconi's brother, said the
final against Spain "Is the sporting revenge of the
Mediterranean countries, those so humiliated by the little
teachers of rigour who want to give us lessons in morality."
Italian sentiments were shared in Greece, where Merkel is
widely hated for imposing the harsh austerity that has caused
deep economic suffering. "They bankrupted her," said the Sports
Day newspaper. "We are all Italians," said Goal News.
HOPE AGAINST RACISM
There was also cautious hope that Balotelli's exploits would
have a powerful impact in reducing deep racism in Italy, of
which he has been one of the most prominent victims.
Balotelli left Inter Milan for Manchester City in 2010 and
one motivation was believed to have been the blatant racism he
suffered, particularly from Juventus fans.
The 21-year-old striker was born to Ghanaian parents in
Sicily and then adopted by Italians, growing up in the city of
Brescia - a stronghold of the xenophobic Northern League party.
He suffered repeated racism during his youth and like other
children of immigrants had to wait until he was 18 to go through
a complex and difficult bureaucratic process to win Italian
The leading newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport had to issue an
apology when it published a cartoon on Sunday depicting
Balotelli as King Kong, swatting away footballs from the top of
London's Big Ben.
On Friday, it wrote in a front page editorial, "A star is
born," adding that Balotelli was "the symbol of the new Italy.
Super Mario Balotelli, the kid of dreams."
Simon Martin, a historian of Italian soccer, said Balotelli
"has made an initial difference, but obviously it is a long
process. I don't think it will make an enormous difference
Martin, a lecturer at the American University of Rome, says
Italy is in the same situation with racism in football as
England was in the 1970s, where similar banana throwing and
monkey chants were rife.
"It needs pioneers but he has more potential influence than
possibly anybody in the early days in England because he is so
damned good," Martin told Reuters.
Carlo Melegari, director of the Italian immigration research
organisation Cestim, agreed that Balotelli would have an impact
but that progress would take time.
"He will have an impact of course. Anything which underlines
the quality of a person independently of the colour of their
skin will obviously have repercussions in the general climate of
accepting people who represent a minority," he told Reuters.
"It is not something that can be measured in a short period
but it will certainly take away the argument from those who
believe the colour of a person's skin is an indication of lower
worth. In this case a xenophobe or racist will have to simply
keep their mouths shut," he said.
The most immediate effect may be to boost a major campaign
in Italy to change the law so that immigrants' children who are
born in the country will automatically acquire citizenship
instead of waiting until they are 18.
"Looking at Mario is a bit like looking at all the kids of
colour who go to our nurseries, elementary and secondary
schools, to swimming, basketball, and ask only to be legally
Italian," said Maurizio Crosetti in La Repubblica daily.
"Perhaps from today it will be a bit less difficult for
them. They will try proudly to be Balotelli."
(Editing by Justin Palmer)