Controversial striker Mario Balotelli has declared his belief that Italy are among the favourites to win the World Cup next year, and insists that they should be feared.

The AC Milan man has helped his country to qualify for the tournament in impressive fashion, as they sit top of Group B and seven points clear of Bulgaria, having not been beaten thus far.

Balotelli scored a penalty in the Azzuri's 2-1 win over the Czech Republic last night and has now declared his intentions for next summer's World Cup in Brazil.

He told Gazzetta della Sport: "I think we will be among the favourites (in the World Cup).

"There are still one or two teams that are above us, but they should fear us, not the other way round."

"We are a good group. We are becoming a very strong team that is united and we are able to come out of difficult situations."

The 23-year-old joined Milan in January of this year for a fee of £19m from Manchester City, after three eventful years at the English club.

During his time at the club, Balotelli made headlines for a series of bizarre events, including almost setting fire to his house with fireworks and having a training ground bust-up with manager Roberto Mancini.

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