Gerard Pique knows Spain cannot afford to underestimate Italy and has warned that Mario Balotelli is a potential match-winner.
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Defending champions Spain are strong favourites to win Group C, and they are expected to take all three points against Italy on Sunday. Cesare Prandelli’s men have been in poor form of late, losing their most recent friendly 3-0 to Russia, but Pique is taking nothing for granted.
“Italy are more dangerous when they appear not to be,” Pique said. “They are going to be a very difficult rival, that will qualify and will be fighting for the tournament.
“It seems as if Italy is hurt, not focused, but that is not the case. Just when you think they will not do a good job, they do the best job. They are one of the top teams in Europe and in the world and we will have to be focused.”
He believes Balotelli, in particular, could cause problems for Spain’s defenders.
“We will have to keep a very close eye on him,” Pique said. “Balotelli is a player that can win you a game. He is a player that can take the ball and score when you least expect it.”
Goalkeeper Victor Valdes, meanwhile, has picked out 33-year-old Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo as the Italians’ key player.
“He's the player that carries the Italian midfield,” Valdes said. “Everything goes through him. They have wingers that get forward a lot, they go on the attack. The strikers play quite deep, but they are always looking for that assist from Pirlo. We'll have to keep an eye on him and how we can counter that type of play.”© ESPN