Fortaleza - Mario Balotelli was sent home from the Confederations Cup on Monday due to a strained thigh, leaving Italy without its top striker for both the semi-final v Spain and the final or third-place match.
Having already been ruled out of Thursday's semi-final, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli decided to send Balotelli home after consulting with team physician Enrico Castellacci.
"I feel like a loser leaving this way. I would have liked to stay but there's the Champions League preliminary round so I've got to take care of myself," Balotelli said upon leaving the team hotel, referring to matches in August with AC Milan. "Anyhow my teammates will do well even without me."
Balotelli injured his left quadriceps during Italy's 4-2 loss to Brazil on Saturday. He has been the Azzurri's most explosive player in the tournament so far, scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory over Mexico, converting a penalty in the 4-3 win over Japan and setting up a goal for Emanuele Giaccherini against Brazil.
"He's obviously very upset but there's just not enough time for him to return," Prandelli said, adding that the decision was made without any pressure from Milan. "We just used good sense."
Castellacci said that Milan's medical staff will take over treatment.
"I checked out Balotelli this morning and, considering his condition, I don't think he will be able to recuperate before the final," Castellacci said. "It's not worth taking more risks."
Balotelli is the second Italy player sent home since the Brazil match, with fullback Ignazio Abate - who also plays for Milan - having left Sunday with a dislocated right shoulder.
Meanwhile, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who sat out Saturday's match with Brazil due to a muscle problem, continued to train separately from the rest of the squad.
"Pirlo continues to work out and we're optimistic but we need to evaluate him day by day and we won't decide whether he can play until the last minute," Castellacci said.
In a bit of positive news, midfielder Riccardo Montolivo has fully recuperated from a knock to the head and trained regularly on Monday.
Alberto Gilardino would seem to be Balotelli's logical replacement if Prandelli sticks with his single-striker lineup. Or he could use several forwards such as Emanuele Giaccherini, Stephan El Shaarawy, Sebastian Giovinco, Alessio Cerci or Alessandro Diamanti.
"Without Mario we'll have to work much more collectively so we'll work more on that," Prandelli said. "We have a few problems but the squad is responding well despite the difficulties."