Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has pleaded with enigmatic striker Mario Balotelli not to cause problems for Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.
The hot-headed forward is hoping to start for the Azzurri when they take on England in Sunday’s Euro 2012 quarter-final, after coming off the bench to score against Republic of Ireland on Monday in the last Group C fixture.
Mancini believes the 21-year-old is Italy’s best striker, and thinks he should be in the first XI against Roy Hodgson’s side, but has warned him to do as he is told by his national team coach.
“I suggest he plays as he knows, and not to be a pain in the a*** for the coach,” he told The Sun. “He has to play, as no one else can give England the same problem.
“Prandelli is doing terrific work but he has to rely on Mario. He is too important, you could not leave him on the bench.”
Italy qualified from Group C behind reigning champions Spain, setting up Sunday’s showdown with the Three Lions, and Mancini believes Balotelli has the star quality that could see the Azzurri go all the way.
“Mario is a champion and champions help you win,” he added.
“Italy are stronger if Balotelli plays. Look at the other evening [against Ireland]. He came on, gave a spark to the game and scored a splendid goal.
“I consider Mario to be the best Italian attacker. Cassano is second, Di Natale is good but he has different characteristics with respect to Balotelli.”
England's showdown against Italy kicks off at 20:45CET Sunday and the winner will take on either Germany or Greece in the semi-final.
Gianfranco Zola believes Italy have what it takes to challenge the top teams at Euro 2012, tipping them as "dark horses" to overcome England in the quarter-finals and go on to win the tournament.
The Azzurri finished second in Group C, having taken five points off of Spain, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition and set up a last eight clash with the Three Lions on Sunday.
Zola, who scored the winner for Italy in a 1998 World Cup qualifier against England 15 years ago, has claimed that while Cesare Prandelli's team have problems seeing games out and tucking chances away, they should not be underestimated.
"If Italy play as their opening three matches, England or France make no difference: the opponents will have more problems," Zola told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Apart from a drop in the final stages because of fatigue, I saw good ball movement and fluidity in the final third.
"Admittedly we are struggling to find the goal, but I had said before Euro 2012 that Italy are dark horses."
Zola then went on to praise coach Prandelli for his attempt to modernise Italy's style of play, adding that his decision to field midfielder Daniele De Rossi as an extra defender was an inspired choice.
"It is no surprise that Hodgson knows our football," Zola continued. "This reminds me of Germany's World Cup team in South Africa: quite young, proactive and full of ideas.
"Prandelli has had the courage to not play the 'Italian' way, having invested in quality and focused on ball possession and that coupled with our defence gives us three or four major tactical advantages."
"I liked De Rossi between the two centre-backs. I liked how he launched play from deep. Daniele helps the team cover more distance.
"I believe that Prandelli against England will play three at the back, but [whatever happens], I trust him."
Zola has had experience of playing against Roy Hodgson's teams in the past for Parma, Chelsea and Italy and he is highly respectful of the current England manager's philosophy, which he feels is based on the ideals of the Italian game.
"I saw [Hodgson] play a 4-4-2 with high pressing, careful distances and spaces between departments, even if people like Ashley Young, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney can initiate a change of pace at any time.
"Italian coaches in England have helped the English to understand that to win, you must also defend well.
"You see a lot of Hodgson's influence [in his teams]. When I played against Switzerland and Inter, [I saw] that wherever he coached, his philosophy was organisation, order and self-denial: a 'sacchiano' in the sense of the word."
Zola also offered some words of encouragement to Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli, who scored his first goal of the tournament against the Republic of Ireland.
"Today Balotelli is what he is," Zola opined. "His goals are like the one he scored against Ireland; they come when you least expect it.
"But I trained the Under 21s and I can confirm that we have not yet seen the best of Mario. He has made strides in his presence on the pitch and is playing for the team more, but he must continue to improve.
"That is, in terms of finding more determination, better management of himself on the field and increasing his tactical awareness."
Daniele De Rossi has revealed that Italy's Euro 2012 contest against England will give him the opportunity to face his idol, Steven Gerrard.
The Azzurri will tackle the Three Lions on Sunday in their quarter-final match after finishing second in Group C following a 2-0 victory over Republic of Ireland.
And De Rossi thinks that Roy Hodgson's men will pose Italy a great threat, hailing the quality of the England captain.
"Gerrard has always been my idol, he has been playing at a high level for years," De Rossi told reporters at a press conference.
"England are very strong, they have an Italian approach, with a good defence. We would rather face Ukraine, but it is okay."
The 28-year-old has played as a centre-back in two games at the tournament following the fitness problems that have plagued the team's defenders, with coach Cesare Prandelli not having yet made a decision on where the Roma midfielder will be used against England.
"Prandelli trusts me, he showed that by deploying me as a defender," De Rossi added. "He makes me play in different positions, which is something that I like.
"I do not know where I will play against England."
Mario Balotelli could be handed a start on Sunday following his goal against Ireland, and De Rossi believes that the Manchester City striker can play a big role in the match.
"We hope we will do well," De Rossi added. "The important thing is that we cause England some problems, it is the same if it is Balotelli to do it or someone else.
"What matters is to score goals, and Mario can score them. He looks fine to me, but at his age it is normal that he should start to take responsibility and be treated like the others. He is becoming a man now.
"At his age I went to the World Cup in 2006 and elbowed someone [Brian McBride]. It made me grow up."
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has completed a 21 kilometre walk to a monastery in the middle of the night following the Azzurri's progress to the knockout stages at Euro 2012.
The national team boss made a promise at the start of the tournament to the monks of the Camaldolese Priory that he would travel to the monastery on foot if his side qualified for the quarter-finals.
Prandelli was joined by members of his technical staff and Italian Football Federation (FIGC) vice-president Demetrio Albertini for the trip as they left Italy's base camp in Wieliczka during midnight hours on Tuesday.
The group arrived at the Camaldolese Priory after a three-and-a-half-hour walk, and received a warm welcome from the monks, before returning to the Turowka hotel by car at 07:15CET.
Italy will meet Group D winners England in the quarter-finals. The encounter takes place in Kiev on Sunday.
Italy forward Antonio Cassano was grateful for his first goal at Euro 2012 against the Republic of Ireland, after heart surgery in November last year threatened to rule him out of the tournament in the first place.
The opening of his account coincided with a 2-0 win for Italy over the Boys in Green which, combined with Spain's victory over Croatia, set up a quarter-final date for the Azzurri against England.
"When I was recovering, my first thoughts were to go back to living," Cassano told Sportmediaset.
"I've made three thousand sacrifices to be here, and my goal helping us to progress to the quarter-finals is a dream. Of course, when it's someone like [Andrea] Pirlo taking the corner, it's that much easier."
The 29-year-old then lauded AC Milan's decision to turn down Paris Saint-Germain's massive offer for club-mate Thiago Silva, who has established himself as one of the world's best defenders at San Siro.
"I'm happy Thiago [Silva] will be remaining at Milan next season," Cassano added. "It was an obvious act of love to the club by the president."
Silvio Berlusconi rejected a €47 million offer from the Parisian side that would have seen the center-back reunited with former Milan coach Leonardo.
Italy have been rocked by the news that Giorgio Chiellini has suffered a strained hamstring and is therefore unlikely to play any further part in their Euro 2012 campaign.
The versatile Juventus defender limped off during the Azzurri's 2-0 victory over Republic of Ireland in Poznan on Monday evening and subsequent scans have now revealed the full extent of the damage.
"Giorgio Chiellini has suffered a strained left hamstring," Italy team doctor Enrico Castellacci confirmed on Tuesday evening.
It is not yet known exactly how long the centre-half will be out of action for and he is set to remain with the squad in Poland. However, it is believed that his tournament is over.
Chiellini's injury is a massive blow for the Azzurri as not only is he one of their most reliable performers, his versatility means that he is capable of playing at left-back as well as centre-half.
It will also come as a huge disappointment to the player, who had worked incredibly hard to make himself available for his country's Euro 2012 campaign after suffering a thigh injury at the tail end of the Serie A season.
Italy, having progressed to the knockout stages as Group C's runners-up, are scheduled to face the winners of Group D on Sunday evening in Kiev.
Giorgio Chiellini lefts the match against Republic Ireland while he felt some pain in his left knee muscle.
Professor Enrico Catellacci, doctor of Italy national team said He will be out for quarter finals match 100% but his condition will be test tomorrow to examine how much his left hamstring is damaged.
Let's hope we don't lose Chiellini for rest of matches as we will need him so much in heart of defence.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has praised his side's mentality following a 2-0 victory against Ireland in their final Euro 2012 group match.
Goals from Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli saw the Azzurri finish runners-up to Spain in Group C, on five points, to progress to the quarter-finals.
And Prandelli believes that Italy were worthy winners on Monday and has not set limits for the team if his players continue to show the same winning mentality.
"We wanted this victory so badly and I think we deserved to win and progress," he told Rai Sport after the game.
"The most important thing was that tonight we understood that we have to put a lot of determination into our game. We can achieve anything with this heart.
"In the quarter-finals we will have to show the same attitude. More important than the situations that we will come across will be showing the same commitment and spirit of sacrifice.
"We will always try to play good football, but we will try to be more clinical in attack."
Italy will play their quarter-final clash against the winner of Group D on Sunday, in Kiev.
Having survived a group stage which was "half very good and half so-so", Italy's Claudio Marchisio, Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Cassano are ready for the challenges ahead.
There was a sense of relief in the Italy squad as they qualified for the quarter-finals, but also a sense of a job well done after Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli struck unanswered goals against the Republic of Ireland. Three Azzurri players spoke to UEFA.com at the Municipal Stadium Poznan.
Daniele De Rossi, Italy midfielder
Everything worked out well. We said many times that we had to focus on our own game and if we did we would qualify, as we knew that Spain would play like they did and beat Croatia. We've seen that it was also difficult for them. However, we struggled in this game, perhaps more than the previous two. We couldn't find any space as they closed it down well.
The Irish are a good team, very physical. They definitely made it a very difficult game so they deserve credit for that. As for their fans, I've never seen anything like it. They play a good long-ball game and all you need is one mistake, one good moment for them. It's not easy when all their side are so physical.
Claudio Marchisio, Italy midfielder
It was tough, especially the last minute when we were waiting for the result from the other match, but then it finished very well for us. Now a new tournament begins for us, after an up-and-down round which was half very good and half so-so. But we got through this round, which wasn't easy, with Spain, Croatia, and even Ireland, who even though they were already out of the tournament gave everything they could today as well. So great credit to this team, who showed big character in a crucial game.
Maybe today with the change of tactics there was more balance in the team in comparison to the other matches. This is the way we are going to play in the next matches, no matter who we face in the quarter-finals. After an even game against Spain, who are European and world champions, we are happy to take on anyone.
Antonio Cassano, Italy forward
The tough victories are the best ones. The most important thing was to get through the group stages. I couldn't wait for the final whistle in the other match, but then the match finally ended, and I'm very happy. We don't fear anybody. The important thing was to qualify, and now the knockout stage starts and we will face anybody.