Pique wary of Balotelli threat
Spain defender Gerard Pique is wary of the threat posed by Italian striker Mario Balotelli ahead of their Group C opener.
Last Updated: 08/06/12 5:46pm
Spain defender Gerard Pique is wary of the threat posed by Italian striker Mario Balotelli ahead of their Euro 2012 Group C opener.
The tournament holders and World Cup winners begin their campaign against the Azzurri in Gdansk on Sunday.
Pique has identified Manchester City forward Balotelli as one of Italy's players that could cause his side major problems.
"We will have to keep a very close eye on him," Pique admitted. "Balotelli is a player that can win you a game.
"He is a player that can take the ball and score when you least expect it."
Italy go into the encounter at the PGE Arena with their preparations having been affected by the latest match-fixing scandal to hit the nation.
On the pitch, the Azzurri lost 3-0 to Russia last week - their third straight friendly defeat - in their last test before the start of the tournament and Pique is even more wary of a wounded Italy.
"Italy are more dangerous when they appear not to be," Pique said. "They are going to be a very difficult rival, that will qualify and will be fighting for the tournament.
"It seems as Italy is hurt, not focused but that is not the case.
"Just when you think they will not do a good job, they do the best job.
"They are one of the top teams in Europe and in the world and we will have to be focused."
Spain knocked Italy out of the Euro 2008 tournament in a quarter-final penalty shoot-out.
Pique believes his team have what it takes to beat Italy and go all the way in Poland and Ukraine.
"It is important to start with a victory and against the other favourites in the group," he said. "I think if we play as we know how, we can win this tournament."
Pique insists he and his team-mates can cope with being tagged as favourites heading into the tournament.
"If they consider you favourite it's because they see you have the quality to win it," he said. "I prefer to go with that tag as we can live with it because that pressure is what we have on a day-to-day basis in our clubs.
"We are optimistic, as we should be having won Euro 2008 and the World Cup, but we must keep our feet firmly on the ground and take it one step at a time."