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England’s Manchester City players know there are two versions of Mario Balotelli and their chances of reaching the last four of Euro 2012 may hinge on which one shows up in Kiev.
Will it be Super Mario, capable of conjuring a goal from nowhere and transforming a game with a single flash of inspiration?
Or will it be Stupid Mario, the disinterested bystander cum total liability, bickering with teammates and flashing his studs into tackles like a red card trying to happen?
“There are two Marios,” said James Milner. “The one who turns up sometimes at training and it’s a bit cold and he’s not interested.
“The other time, he really wants it and he is a special talent. He is a top player. He has a strong shot, he is tricky and a clever player, we know all that. But we’ve been brilliant at the back so far.”
Joleon Lescott’s emergence as a reliable central defensive partner for John Terry has been a key part of this reliability which supplies the bedrock of Roy Hodgson’s team. Lescott scored England’s first goal of the tournament against France and has grown in confidence and stature ever since.
Lescott seems to be maturing into a genuine international defender.
“Joleon has been playing like that all season for City,” said Milner. “He knows Mario well. He trains with him every day and I’m sure he will keep him quiet.”
Inside information is sure to help but Lescott vowed not to be lured into any pre-match distractions by the Italian.
“There won’t be any text messages,” he said. “We’re here for different teams. We play together at club level but at international level it is totally different.
“I know the quality he possesses. He is quick and strong and, at any time, he can create something out of nothing, similar to other world-class strikers in the competition. I watched Italy when he came on and changed the game against Ireland with his goal. He looked sharp but the team is not made up of one player.” – Daily Mail