Milan – AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli hit out at his critics a day before the struggling Serie A giants host in-form Atletico Madrid.
Balotelli made partial amends for a string of mediocre performances for Clarence Seedorf's side with a stunning long-range strike which sealed a late 1-0 win against Bologna on Friday.
It came in timely fashion, only days ahead of the first leg of a Champions League last 16 tie against Diego Simeone's Spanish title chasers.
Balotelli hopes it has silenced his detractors for a game for which Milan, going on recent statistics, are the underdogs.
“I criticise myself enough, so when I hear it coming from other people I get really fed up,” the 23-year-old told media on Tuesday.
Atletico, who are pushing Barcelona and Real Madrid for command of La Liga, are firm favourites for a win that would boost their quarter-final chances ahead of the return leg at the Vicente Calderon in a fortnight.
However, Balotelli says he is spurred on by the chance to make partial amends for Italy's last final defeat at a major international tournament.
A brace from the Italy striker in the semi-final of Euro 2012 against Germany set up a final against Spain, who went on to rout the Azzurri 4-0.
Balotelli admits the 'Rioja' are a tough nut to crack but added: “Their national side is a little difficult to beat, but maybe we can start (avenging) by beating a Spanish club side.
“Games like tomorrow's are different, but the objective remains the same: like having the determination to win and helping the team reach that objective.”
Seedorf, meanwhile, admitted earlier this week that Atletico will be formidable opponents.
But the Dutchman, the only player to have won Europe's most prestigious club trophy with three different clubs – Ajax, Real Madrid and twice with Milan – is relishing the challenge.
“I hope tomorrow we will reap what we have sown over the past weeks,” said the 37-year-old.
To discerning fans of the Rossoneri, however, that could sound ominous.
Seedorf took charge of the ailing Italian giants following the sacking of former handler Massimiliano Allegri in early January when they were languishing below mid-table.
And after three wins in five league games and a quarter-final exit from the Italian Cup at the hands of Udinese, the jury remains out on the Dutchman who spent 10 success-laden years at the club. – Sapa-AFP