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VERONA, Italy (AP) — Brescia striker Mario Balotelli threatened to leave the field due to racist chants directed at him by Hellas Verona fans during a top-tier soccer game in Italy on Sunday.
Visibly upset as he fought for the ball near the corner flag at the end of the stadium where the monkey chants were emanating from, Balotelli interrupted the action, picked up the ball with his hands and drop-kicked it high into the stands to vent his frustration.
Brescia teammates and Verona players went over to embrace Balotelli and persuaded him to stay as the referee ordered a warning to be read out over the stadium's public address system.
"Thanks to all the colleagues on and off the field for the solidarity expressed toward me and all of the messages received from you fans," Balotelli wrote later in Italian on Instagram , accompanied by a video from the match. "A heartfelt thanks. You've shown yourself to be real men, not like those who deny the evidence."
Balotelli was even more direct in a message he posted in an Instagram story over a video from the stands where monkey noises are clearly heard, followed by wild cheers when he kicked the ball into the stands. The message read: "To the 'people' in this end who made the monkey noises: Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you in front of your children, wives, parents, relatives, friends and acquaintances..shame."
The match at the Bentegodi stadium was suspended for several minutes with Verona leading 1-0 at the time before it resumed.
It was the second time this weekend that a Serie A game was suspended for offensive chants, after Roma supporters aimed anti-territorial chants at Napoli on Saturday.
Verona coach Ivan Juric said he didn't hear any racist chants.
"There was absolutely nothing," Juric said. "There were a lot of whistles every time he had the ball but not racism. I didn't hear a single (chant)."
Brescia coach Eugenio Corini also said he didn't hear the offensive chants but added, "If the referee decided to suspend the match and ask for that announcement to be made something must have happened.
"Honestly, I was far away and I didn't hear anything," Corini said.
Corini was later fired by the club which has struggled this season and is near the bottom of Serie A. No new manager was immediately announced.
Balotelli, who is black, was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants and has represented Italy's national team. He recently returned to Serie A after several seasons in France.
The 29-year-old Balotelli also experienced racism at the beginning of his career in Italy, when he rose to prominence with Inter Milan.
Verona went ahead 2-0 before Balotelli scored for Brescia and the game ended 2-1.
Balotelli also hit the post in the first half of one of his best performances since joining Brescia — his hometown club — in August.