ROME (AP) – There's never a dull moment when it comes to Italy's two most talented strikers - Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano.
Both players are known for behavior patterns just as extreme as their talent on the football field. But while Balotelli is still struggling to harness his behavior, Cassano's antics have been swept aside with his recent health problems - and now he's just happy to be alive.
Cassano fell ill with stroke-like symptoms on AC Milan's team plane while returning from a match at Roma in October and then required minor heart surgery that kept him out for five months.
When Cassano scored his first goal since returning on April 29 - exactly six months after the illness - he ran over and hugged Milan physician Rudi Tavana.
''This man saved my life,'' Cassano said. ''For 36 hours after the illness I had trouble speaking and remembering things. ... I was afraid of dying. Four days before the operation I was really afraid. The thought of making my friends and family suffer really pained me.
''Fortunately, it's all in the past now and I've begun a new life.''
Due to turn 30 in July, Cassano appears to have finally gotten his temper under control, too. A temper that produced well-documented run-ins with Fabio Capello at both Roma and Real Madrid, and then a separation from Sampdoria when he allegedly insulted club president Riccardo Garrone with a profanity-laced tirade.
''I know that as soon as a I miss a few passes they'll start calling me crazy again,'' Cassano said.
While previous coach Marcello Lippi left Cassano off his squad at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, he was a fixture in attack in Euro 2012 qualifying under Cesare Prandelli.
''Prandelli helped me a lot,'' Cassano said. ''He kept saying he would wait for me for the Euros.''
As for Balotelli, however, Prandelli is still waiting - waiting for him to grow up and stop breaking the coach's new code of ethics installed for the national team.
Prandelli left Balotelli off the squad for a friendly against the United States in February after he received a four-match suspension in January for his stamp on Tottenham midfielder Scott Parker.
With Prandelli's urging, Balotelli issued a public apology in April for his latest act of indiscipline with Manchester City, having picked up his fourth red card in two seasons with the English club for lunging at Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna's knee.
''I was pleased to see him assume responsibility,'' Prandelli said. ''I like it when somebody faces up to what they've done.''
Earlier this season, Balotelli had to come up with an explanation for English authorities after a fire broke out in his house when fireworks were let off in his bathroom.
According to Prandelli's code of ethics, players can be suspended for getting into trouble with their clubs, or even minor infractions while with the national team.
''It's a little bit like a family,'' Prandelli said. ''What do you do with your children? You set rules. If you don't grow up with rules in place, everything becomes very complicated.''