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Balotelli earns ban as Milan slip up

By Gary Morley, CNN
updated 5:38 PM EDT, Sun April 7, 2013
AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli was booked in Sunday's 2-2 draw with 10-man Fiorentina, incurring a suspension.
AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli was booked in Sunday's 2-2 draw with 10-man Fiorentina, incurring a suspension.
  • Mario Balotelli will miss AC Milan's crucial match against Italian rivals Napoli
  • Striker was booked during Sunday's 2-2 draw with 10-man Fiorentina
  • Result leaves Milan four points behind second-placed Napoli
  • In Spain, third -placed Atletico Madrid draw at Getafe after having two men sent off

(CNN) -- Sometimes it's hard to know what to believe about Mario Balotelli.

His two years in England with Manchester City were packed with reports of his eccentric behaviour, from setting his bathroom alight with fireworks (before being named a fire safety spokesman) to a training brawl with his club manager, giving money away to strangers ... the list was endless.

And now Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport has reported firstly, on Friday, that the soccer star has been named as one of Time's 100 most influential people of 2012 (though there is no evidence of that on the magazine's website) and then, on the way to a game on Sunday, he was caught smoking in the toilet of a train, which will cost him a fine.

What is certain is that Balotelli, who appeared on the cover of Time Europe last November, will miss a crucial game next weekend that will have a major impact on his club AC Milan's hopes of automatically qualifying for next season's Champions League.

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The 22-year-old was booked in third-placed Milan's 2-2 draw with fellow European hopefuls Fiorentina, for trying to delay an opposition free-kick with 20 minutes to play.

The fourth-placed home side -- at that point 2-1 down and playing with 10 men since before halftime after Nenad Tomovic was sent off for elbowing Balotelli's strike partner Stephan El Shaarawy -- fought back to equalize through a late penalty by David Pizarro.

It was Fiorentina's second spot-kick, with Adam Ljajic having reduced the deficit on 66 after goals from midfielders Riccardo Montolivo and Mathiu Flamini had put Milan in charge.

The result left Milan 13 points behind leaders Juventus and four adrift of next weekend's opponent Napoli -- who beat lowly Genoa 2-0 later Sunday despite a second-half penalty miss by Edinson Cavani.

The top two teams will automatically qualify for the group stage of Europe's top club competition, in which Milan lost in the last 16 to Barcelona this season, while the third must play in the final qualifying round.

"Considering the score after the first half, it's a big slip-up for us," Milan assistant coach Mauro Tassotti said on the club's website.

"A win would have cut Fiorentina out of the Champions League race as they would have been nine points off. Balotelli will be suspended now against Napoli and Giampaolo Pazzini will play. He now has another full week to improve his condition."

Pazzini has been struggling with injury since the March 8 win over Genoa, but came off the bench late in the game against Fiorentina.

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Fiorentina could lose fourth place if Lazio win Monday's Rome derby -- a result which would further dent Inter Milan's European hopes.

Sixth-placed Inter suffered a shock 4-3 defeat at home to Atalanta, whose veteran Argentine striker German Denis scored a second-half hat-trick to outshine Ricardo Alvarez's double.

In Spain, Atletico Madrid's poor second half to the season continued with a 0-0 draw at Getafe in which the third-placed team had Mario Suarez and Diego Godin sent off.

It left Atletico three points behind city rivals Real, and 17 behind leaders Barcelona.

Valencia moved up to fifth with a 2-1 victory at home to 10-man Valladolid to be two points behind Sociedad, holders of the last Champions League spot.

Jonas headed an injury-time winner after Oscar Gonzalez leveled, with Henrique Sereno having been sent off in the 56th minute for fouling Valencia striker Roberto Soldado -- whose resulting penalty was saved..

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