England's City players to face teammate Balotelli
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -Unpredictable as a teammate, England's Manchester City players may soon get a chance to see what Italy striker Mario Balotelli is like as an opponent.
The Italians will face England in Kiev on Sunday in the European Championship quarterfinals, and the sometimes out-of-control Balotelli could be the one looking to score the decisive goal.
"I've never actually played against the guy but it'll be a lot of fun and it'll be interesting to see what he brings to the table,'' Manchester City and England goalkeeper Joe Hart said Thursday.
In the Premier League, Balotelli has often used his talents to bewilder opponents over the last two seasons, but he's been also been prone to explode both on and off the field. There were bathroom pyrotechnics at Balotelli's house last year in England, when an indoor firework display had the emergency services racing to put out a small fire.
"He's quite an extravagant guy,'' Hart said. "I think Mario accepts, with the way he is, that sometimes he's going to bring attention to himself ... you just come to love the guy because of what he is. There's no acting with him. He just does as he does.
"And when he's on form football-wise, he's a great player.''
If Balotelli does start on Sunday, England center back Joleon Lescott is likely to have the task of keeping him quiet - a month after they celebrated winning the Premier League title together at City.
"Coming up against Mario is obviously going to be a tough task. I know the quality he possesses,'' Lescott said. "He is quick, strong, can create something out of nothing, similar to the other world-class strikers in the tournament.
"I don't know if it is an advantage knowing his game so well. You could say the same thing about me. I'm sure there will be strengths and weaknesses we will be looking to exploit against each other.''
James Milner, another of England's City contingent, knows not to underestimate Balotelli, who scored 17 times last season.
"He is very strong, shooting-wise ... he is tricky, a clever player,'' Milner said. "He is a danger. There are two Marios. There is one who turns up sometimes in training and it is a bit cold and he is not too interested.
"The other time he really wants it, as I'm sure he will against England, and he is a special talent.''
Although he has played his part in helping Italy reach the quarterfinals, Balotelli risked being excluded from its Euro 2012 squad due to his misdemeanors. He was dropped for a friendly against the United States in February after he received a four-match suspension from the English Football Association for a stamp on Tottenham midfielder Scott Parker, who is set to start for England on Sunday.
The Italian media has been billing the quarterfinal as the battle of the "bad boys'' with Balotelli also set to come up against England striker Wayne Rooney, whose transgressions have also regularly made headline news.
"They're two totally different guys, but both with immense talent, and both with the same goal for their team: to win,'' Hart said. "A lot gets made of their off-the-field activities.''
Balotelli recently admitted to an affair with a woman who Rooney repeatedly slept with while his wife was pregnant. Jennifer Thompson was working as an escort when she and another call girl were linked with Rooney in 2010.
"I think if the media took an interest in any one of our lives like they did theirs then they'd find interesting things about anyone in this room,'' Hart said. "They just happen to be the people that people pick on. But I can only talk about football. Wayne's a fantastic footballer and obviously I've worked closely with Mario and I think he's an exceptional footballer, too.
"It will good for everyone to watch those two players doing their thing on Sunday.''
Penguins edge Rangers in shootout for 4-3 win
Jagr moves up scoring list as Devils dump Sens 5-2