Mario Balotelli defended by Dante after Eysseric questioned work ethic at Nice

Nice defender Dante has told Sport360 that Valentin Eysseric's criticism of Mario Balotelii has been misinterpreted after the striker was accused of a lack of effort.

Balotelli was left on the bench in favour of Eysseric before coming on for just the final eight minutes of last week's 1-0 win over St Etienne, and was not even in the matchday squad for Sunday's 2-2 draw at Rennes.

Eysseric had claimed Balotelli needed to "think more about the team and work more for us," and that the summer arrival from Liverpool sulked when everything did not go his way, adding: "It's a shame he's like that and that his head drops."

But Dante, who like Balotelli joined Nice's unlikely Ligue 1 title challenge in the summer, has tried to play down Eysseric's remarks.

"That was a bit of a misunderstanding, or at least a wrong appreciation of Esseyric's words," Dante told Sport360. "Balotelli is part of the collective and does a lot for the team.

"It is not a question of if Nice play better with or without Balotelli. Rather, it's clear that he weighs in a positive way on the team.

"He is a very dedicated and focused player, despite what the media may say or write. He is trying to get rid of that negative image. Balotelli is a good player and a good person. He has scored nine goals so far this season and contributes a great deal to the team."

Only one of Balotelli's nine goals have come since the restart after the winter break, during which time Nice have won only twice in six Ligue 1 outings to surrender top spot to Monaco and being knocked out of the French Cup by bottom-of-the-table Lorient.

Dante remains confident of the club's bid for a place in the Champions League, however.

"This Nice team is a very solid team," Dante added. "It's been a surprising season, but Nice is sitting in third place because of the hard work that has been put in by the team.

"We have a good group and that's why I think we are so competitive and still in the race for the Champions League."