Super Mario Uncharacteristically Misses First Career Penalty Shot

PHOTO: AC Milans forwards Mario Balotelli reacts after missing a penalty shot during the Serie A football match AC Milan vs Naples, on September 22, 2013, at the San Siro stadium in Milan.

Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

Mario Balotelli missed a penalty.

This is news, you see, because he's never done that before. Missed. Since becoming a professional footballer as a teenager, Balotelli has taken and scored 21 penalties in official matches. Prozone puts the overall average conversion rate at a notch under 70 percent, so when Pepe Reina saved Balotelli's spot kick on Sunday in some ways it was a statistical anomaly evening out. Still, it felt jarring.

Napoli went on to win 2-1 over AC Milan. Balotelli got a red card after the final whistle.

In many ways Balotelli is tremendously rash. The ejection against Napoli was the eighth of his career.

After Internazionale beat Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals, he tore off and chucked his jersey to the ground – frustration with his own miserable performance making him tone deaf to the team's triumph.

Jose Mourinho failed to break him. Roberto Mancini, a father figure who coached the mercurial player at two clubs, got so fed up he started punching the young striker in Manchester City training and sold him to Milan soon after.

Google “Mario Balotelli antics” for 73,800 results of mostly apocryphal stories of Super Mario being Super Mario.

This recklessness makes the 23-year-old an odd fit for a ruthless penalty taker. When 12 yards out, the goalkeeper snarling against a backdrop of braying fans, scoring comes down more to focus than ability. Think free throws: you want the solid, dependable guy who puts in the hours of practice. But behind the brash and untamed glint in Balotelli's eye, there's an ice cold heart.

“It’s just like a mind game between me and the goalkeeper,” he once told the Daily Mirror. “Me, I know how to control my mind. When the keeper moves before me, it means that in this mind game he has lost.”

Reina apparently blocked the PK by waiting until Balo shot, having memorized which way the stuttered run-up indicated (as opposed to a smooth approach).

Balotelli is calm in other key areas besides penalties. Take, for instance, the racist abuse he faces in Italy. Juventus fans occasionally chant “There's no such thing as a black Italian,” even when Balotelli isn't playing. Paolo Berlusconi— brother of AC Milan president, former Italian Prime Minister and noted sleezeball Silvio– called him the equivalent of a porch monkey.

Balotelli is always philosophical – never huffy – when asked about it, and he never reacts. Just read his recent Sports Illustrated interview, an issue whose cover featured a photograph of him walking on water.

The Italian international is also, given the circumstances, serene when opponents target him. According to Opta, opposing teams picked up 10 cards from fouling him in his first seven games back in Serie A last year. The Parma defenders kicked him so hard his shins started bleeding.

For an even more poignant example, go back to May 5, 2010. Inter led Roma 1-0 in the 88th minute of the Coppa Italia. Balotelli jutted down the left wing, cut inside and took on three Roma players. Francesco Totti chased him, aiming a donkey kick up the side of Balotelli's leg. The immediate red sealed the game while Balotelli looked up from the ground wondering what had hit him.

He must have had the same question on Sunday.

Up until Saturday, the website “Has Balotelli Missed a Penalty?” kept track of every single penalty Balotelli has successfully converted (27 in total, including unofficial matches). Now it answers its own question with a “Yes” and a pict ure of Balotelli crying. It’s heartbreaking.

Balotelli is an overgrown manchild, but he takes penalties like an adult.

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