ENGLAND midfielder Scott Parker has warned team-mates they will have to stop his old foe Mario Balotelli if they are to overcome Italy on Sunday and reach the semi-finals of the European Championship.
Tottenham’s Parker and Balotelli, of Manchester City, clashed last season in the Premier League when the Italian earned a four-game ban for stamping on Parker’s head.
Balotelli has scored just once so far in the tournament, a late strike in a 2-0 win over Republic of Ireland, as the Italians finished runner-up to all-conquering Spain in Group C.
But Parker still fears the flamboyant 21-year-old, who has played an important if episodic role in City’s ascent to the apex of English football, with 27 goals in two seasons since joining from Inter Milan.
“He’s been in the Premier League for a year now [sic] and we’ve all seen how brilliant he can be and what he can bring. He’s a very good player and someone we are going to have to keep our eye on,” said Parker.
“We now look forward to the quarter-final against Italy. We get an extra day, which is key for us, we’ll go and prepare for that game like we’ve prepared for all the others, and hopefully we can get the result.”
Skipper Steven Gerrard, meanwhile, has urged England not to allow the euphoria of winning their group to undermine preparations for the quarter-final against Cesare Prandelli’s men.
“It was fantastic to top the group and we need to enjoy it now but then dust ourselves down because it will be a very tough game against the Italians,” said the Liverpool captain.
“They are a very tough team to beat. They are good defensively, have got a fantastic keeper in [Gianluigi] Buffon, and they’ve also got matchwinners in the ranks.
“They are similar to us and it will be a very close game. Let’s not underestimate them one little bit.”