England v Italy

Neville: Don't wind up Balotelli

England should not try to get under Italy striker's skin, says coach

ESPN staff

Mario Balotelli has been sent off six times in three seasons

Gary Neville has warned England's players that they risk getting themselves sent off if they try to antagonise temperamental Italy forward Mario Balotelli in Sunday's Euro 2012 quarter-final.

Balotelli, 21, has earned himself a reputation for having a short fuse and has been sent off six times in the past three seasons.

It had been suggested that Roy Hodgson's side might try to target the notoriously capricious character in a bid to get him red carded, but England coach Neville believes the danger of it potentially backfiring means it is not a tactic that should be utilised.

"If you go into the game thinking 'I'll go and try to wind up Balotelli', you could get sent off yourself,'' Neville said. "It's too big a game. Referees nowadays stamp on every little thing that happens - pulling shirts, standing on people's toes.

"Those days are gone. You are just going to get banned for two, three or four matches.''


Neville was part of the England team that was forced to battle against Argentina after David Beckham was sent off at the 1998 World Cup, while the Three Lions were also reduced to ten men against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup when Wayne Rooney was given his marching orders.

And the former Manchester United captain believes knockout matches of major tournaments are difficult enough without having one less player than the opposition.

"In past tournaments, when we have got a player sent off it has been a big problem,'' Neville said. "We are concentrating on the way we keep our own composure and discipline and making sure we don't disappoint ourselves rather than what the other team will do.

"I've never gone into a game of football at any level when we've mentioned we will try to wind somebody up.

Neville has previously described Balotelli as a "clown" for his behaviour at Manchester City but insists he has seen signs of a growing maturity in the striker during Euro 2012.

"He has been very composed in this tournament," Neville said. "I've watched a lot of the Italians in the last 48 hours. He plays well with Antonio Cassano up front. They are a real handful.

"Against Croatia, Balotelli was excellent. He made so many good runs down the side. With Antonio Di Natale they have got three good forwards who compliment each other.

"It may be a player on the pitch can sense something but the biggest concern about Mario Balotelli for England is not whether we can wind him up. I can assure you of that.''

© ESPN

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