Lescott primed for Balotelli battle ahead of Italy clash

The England defender insists the Three Lions cannot afford to concentrate solely on stopping his Manchester City team-mate and says the Azzurri will prove just as tough as Spain
James Goldman
 In Donetsk
England defender Joleon Lescott insists his inside knowledge of Mario Balotelli is unlikely to prove an advantage when the Three Lions lock horns with Italyon Sunday.

Lescott was a commanding presence in a largely backs-to-the-wall performance against Ukraine, which ended in a 1-0 victory thanks to Wayne Rooney’s close range header.

Roy Hodgson’s side will face an altogether different challenge in Kiev, particularly in the form of Lescott’s maverick Manchester City team-mate Balotelli, who opened his goalscoring account at Euro 2012 with a spectacular strike against Ireland on Monday.

“Mario is a great player and we know each other well obviously from training against each other but Italy are not a one-man team and obviously they’ve got a lot of quality in there,” he said.

“I don’t know if that familiarity is going to help me, obviously if does it will help him in the same way. It’s not about me and Mario in the game though, it’s going to be about England versus Italy.”

After topping the group against the odds following France’s surprise defeat against Sweden in Kiev, Lescott revealed that confidence within the camp is sky high, but warned that England cannot afford to believe they have landed a cosy draw after avoiding reigning world and European champions Spain.

He added: “It’s nice to top the group and to go through but if people are making out like it’s a good thing to avoid Spain we know Italy is not going to be an easy game.

“Obviously confidence comes with winning games and getting results and we’ve done that since Roy’s come in and won a bunch of games we’ve made ourselves hard to beat and obviously that breads confidence.”