Mario Balotelli challenges Leeds United attacker as ex-Liverpool and Man City striker makes bold claim

Former Liverpool and Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli believes he is the best, still currently active, Italian striker at national team boss Luciano Spalletti's disposal, despite the likes of Leeds United forward Willy Gnonto, Mateo Retegui and Gianluca Scamacca emerging in recent years.

The 33-year-old is in his second spell with Turkish Super Lig side Adana Demirspor but says he remains the premium pick when it comes to Italian strikers.

"If I’m well, I still consider myself the strongest," the veteran forward told TvPlay. "Did [Giacomo] Raspadori and [Gianluca] Scamacca play yesterday? How many shots did they take combined? Two? I want to recover and play for the national team."

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Italy narrowly secured qualification for next summer's European Championships in Germany with a 0-0 draw against Ukraine earlier this week, finishing second behind England in Group C, level on 14 points with the Ukrainians. Gli Azzurri were fortunate not to concede a late penalty, though, after Chelsea winger Mykhailo Mudryk appeared to have been clipped inside the box, but referee Gil Manzano did not order a spot-kick to be taken.

"I always hope for the call," Balotelli added, discussing a speculative recall to the Italy squad. "I met Spalletti and I’ve met him several times. We made some jokes when we met in a friendly with Napoli, but I have no relationship."

The forward has not been capped by his country in the last five years, during which time the likes of Leeds attacker Gnonto emerged under former boss Roberto Mancini. Gnonto was dropped to the Under-21s during November's international break but scored four times in two matches, in addition to winning two penalties as Gli Azzurrini defeated San Marino 7-0 and salvaged a late two-all draw with the Republic of Ireland, courtesy of the Leeds youngster's brace.

Gnonto will be in contention to return to Spalletti's Italy squad in March when the next international break is scheduled, provided he remains fit, and should stand a better chance of selection than Balotelli who has managed five appearances and three goals for his employers in Turkey's top flight this season.

Leeds' prodigious talent is the youngest scorer in Italy's history, netting his maiden Azzurri goal at the age of 18 years and 222 days - a record which had stood since 1958.

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