James Milner has faith in England defender Joleon Lescott to win the battle with Manchester City team-mate and Italian striker Mario Balotelli in Sunday’s Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev.
Lescott, for his part, believes the winning mentality of key players like Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney is rubbing off on the rest of the England squad.
England midfielder Milner knows all about Balotelli’s qualities and watched him come off the bench to score Italy’s second goal in Monday’s 2-0 win over Republic of Ireland.
The Leeds-born player is also expecting the “special talent” of Balotelli to be on display against England rather than the “disinterested” version which is sometimes evident at City’s training ground.
But Milner has confidence in Lescott, who has impressed alongside John Terry during the three group matches, including Tuesday night’s 1-0 win over co-hosts Ukraine in Donetsk.
“We’ve seen Mario – he is a different player, he’s going to cause you problems. He is very strong, shooting-wise he can cause problems, he is tricky, a clever player as well,” said Milner. “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. He is a top player and we know that. I’m sure he will be at the top of his game.”
Milner added: “We might give him a bit of banter and it was good to see him score Monday night but I think the boys at the back have been outstanding so far in this tournament.
“Joleon has been like that all season for City and now he is doing it for England as well.
“He knows Mario well. He trains with him every day and I’m sure he will keep him quiet.”
Lescott admitted: “Coming up against Mario is obviously going to be a tough task. I know the quality he possesses.
“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.”
Lescott insisted: “There won’t be texts between us. We are here for different teams. We play together at club level but international level is totally different.
“I’ve watched Italy and he came on and changed the game against Ireland and got his goal.
“He got his goal and looked sharp but Italy is not made up of one player.”
Regarding captain Gerrard and Tuesday match-winner Rooney, Lescott believes the pair will have their sights set high for the remainder of the tournament.
“When you’ve got people like Stevie and Wayne, and what they’ve achieved in their careers, they have high ambitions,” he said.
“I don’t think they play any game thinking it would be an achievement just to qualify.
“They are winners and that sort of belief leaks into the squad.
“Wayne is a world-class player and, with his presence on the field, you know he can score anytime.
“Just him being out there creates a better atmosphere while Steven Gerrard has been outstanding, and was outstanding again against Ukraine.
“With myself winning the Premier League this season with City also helps with that kind of thing, and I just want to go on and progress.”
Lescott insists lesser expectation levels outside of the squad have helped England in Poland and Ukraine but that they are growing in confidence.
“The main objective was to qualify but we were confident going into the tournament that we could top our group and we have done so,” he said.
“What stage will we believe we can win Euro 2012? If we get to the final, then you believe but we will take one game at a time.
“It’s an old cliche but we have to be professional and do that and, hopefully, progress.
“It helps that the media expectation is less. Everyone wants us to do well and the way we are going about our business is helping.
“We are getting momentum, definitely. We had a good start against France, a good performance, were well-organised, and we did the same against Sweden apart from a bad 15 minutes in the second half.
“Again, over the course of the game, we dictated it, and now we’ve beaten Ukraine in front of their own fans.”
Lescott is not regarding Italy as an easier option after England avoided meeting World Cup and Euro 2008 champions Spain, who will face runners-up France in the last eight.
“We’ve got an extra day to recover which is an added bonus by playing on Sunday. It was a big plus to top our group but it’s not going to be an easy game,” he said.
“Everyone is making out it is easier because we have avoided Spain but Italy are an accomplished side and they drew with Spain in the group stages.
“It is going to be tough. Everyone has got everything to play for. It will be tough but we are confident going into every game.”