By Terry Daley
ROME, July 11 (Reuters) – Italy striker Mario Balotelli has stoked more controversy by publishing a picture of himself on Instagram pointing a gun at the camera with the message "a big kiss to all the haters".
The AC Milan player quickly removed the photo but his latest gaffe will do him no favors in Italy where he has been a frequent target of racial abuse and has come under huge criticism for his displays in the disappointing World Cup campaign in Brazil.
Balotelli scored the winning goal in the 2-1 victory over England in the opening match but otherwise failed to impress as the Azzurri crashed out in the group stages last month.
The 23-year-old's poor performance in the 1-0 defeat by Uruguay that sent Italy home, during which he was booked after kneeing Alvaro Pereira in the back of the head and substituted at halftime, particularly angered the fans.
After stepping down as Italy coach Cesare Prandelli also criticized Balotelli, saying he was not "a champion".
"If he wants to become a champion he has to live in the real world and not his own virtual reality," Prandelli said on Tuesday.
A string of previous antics, which have included throwing a dart at a youth team player at his former club Manchester City in 2011, have also put Balotelli's position at Milan in question.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)