EURO 2012

Neville warns players to leave Balotelli

Gary Neville
Gary Neville warns England's players to steer clear of temptation to wind Balotelli up.
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Gary Neville has warned England's players they risk getting sent off themselves if they try to wind Mario Balotelli up tonight.

The margins between success and failure when England take on Italy in their Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev are so fine that the loss of a player could tip the balance.

So Balotelli's notoriously fragile temperament might be viewed as a legitimate target.

After all, Neville branded the Manchester City forward "a clown" following his ludicrous red card at Arsenal in April.

Not for the first time since he was appointed to Roy Hodgson's England coaching staff, Neville's forthright opinions have been thrown back at him.

However, he feels niggling Balotelli could prove devastatingly counter-productive.

"If you go into the game thinking 'I'll go and try to wind up Balotelli', you could get sent off yourself," said Neville on Saturday.

"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."

And England have struggled enough with discipline, specifically the defeats to Argentina in 1998 and Portugal eight years later that followed red cards for David Beckham and Wayne Rooney respectively, to cause themselves more problems.

"In past tournaments, when we have got a player sent off it has been a big problem," he 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."

In any case, Neville has seen no evidence at Euro 2012 that Balotelli is going to blow a fuse.

"He has been very composed in this tournament," said Neville.

"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 tomorrow is not whether we can wind him up.

"I can assure you of that."

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