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â€¢ Italy urge their firebrand striker to cut out the petulance
â€¢ Daniele De Rossi: “He should start to take responsibility’
Mario Balotelli has been warned to stay calm and “take responsibility” for his actions in Sunday’s eagerly anticipated Euro 2012 quarter-final, with Italy concerned that England’s players may seek to exploit the Manchester City striker’s combustible temperament when the teams meet in Kiev.
The forward will confront familiar opponents and club-mates from the Premier League, if selected, with the England and City midfielder James Milner having indicated they may “give him a bit of banter” in the game at the Olympic Stadium. Balotelli’s two-year spell at the Etihad Stadium has been marked by controversies which have flared up on and off the pitch, with his abilities as a potential match-winner too often overshadowed by a propensity to self-destruct.
A sense of frustration familiar at City has been shared by his Italy team-mates as well as by the manager, Cesare Prandelli, who dropped the forward to the bench against the Republic of Ireland for their final Group C game. He was eventually rewarded with a 20-minute cameo which yielded Balotelli’s second international goal, albeit also with a petulant celebration that appeared to demonstrate the 21-year-old’s frustration at having been left out of the starting lineup.
“He has to accept the manager’s decisions,” said the Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who may be forced to operate at centre-half on Sunday in the absence of the injured Giorgio Chiellini. “But he’s at the age now where he should start to take responsibility to make sure he’s treated like the others. Mario can hurt any team. He is an outstanding young player, and that’s why he’s playing at Manchester City. There is so much talk of ‘scandal’ around him because he’s so good. But what counts is scoring goals.
“He commits some mistakes out on the pitch but it’s his responsibility to cut them out and play a great game. He has the quality to do that. We are here to win Euro 2012, so everybody has to take his own responsibility to make sure that happens. At Mario’s age, I went to a World Cup [in 2006] and elbowed [Brian McBride] â€“ an incident that made me grow up. He’s becoming a man now.”
England’s players will be wary of the threat posed by Balotelli as they attempt to progress to the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time in 16 years, but they will also be aware of his hot-heated temperament. The striker was sent off twice last season, as well as being banned retrospectively for a stamping offence committed against Tottenham Hotspur’s Scott Parker, who will line up against him again at the weekend. Regardless, there is confidence within Roy Hodgson’s squad that the stubborn defence that thwarted Ukraine on Tuesday can stifle Balotelli and the Azzurri.
“The boys at the back have been outstanding so far in this tournament,” said Milner. “Joleon [Lescott] has been like that all season at City and now he’s doing it for England as well. He knows Mario well and trains with him every day, so, while Mario’s tricky and strong, I’m sure he’ll keep him quiet.”
Hodgson and his medical staff England will continue to assess Ashley Young’s fitness at training on Thursday, with the Manchester United forward still limping heavily on Wednesday after sustaining bruising to a shin in a challenge from Andriy Shevchenko late in the group win against Ukraine. Young is confident he will be fit to feature against face Italy but will be examined on Thursday as England train in Krakow, with his the only injury causing consternation.
The mood within the party is buoyant following their progress out of Group D and with a first competitive meeting with the Azzurri for 22 years still to come. Theo Walcott claimed the side “could beat anyone, the way we are playing”, with his confidence echoed by his team-mates. “We’ve set ourselves up,” said Scott Parker. “We have a real togetherness in the camp and a real belief. In life it is crucial to have that belief and positivity and I think we’ve shown that is what we’ve got now. Sometimes, it can take you far.”
The Football Association has accepted a fine of â‚¬5,000 (Â£4,035) imposed by Uefa for the “inappropriate conduct” of England’s fans during the win against Sweden in Kiev last Friday. The sanction was for an attempted pitch invasion by supporters, with the FA opting against contesting the decision in the belief that the relatively small amount reflects Uefa’s conviction that the incident was not serious. The Croatian FA, in contrast, were fined Â£65,000 after their fans were found guilty of racially abusing Balotelli in the Group C match against Italy.