MANCHESTER, England – Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has advised Italy coach Cesare Prandelli to play Mario Balotelli from the start against England.
The Azzurri take on England in Sunday's Euro 2012 quarter-final meeting in Kiev and Mancini believes City forward Balotelli could prove crucial in that game.
"Mario should always play," Mancini said to Gazzetta dello Sport. "He is the best and, with him, the national team is much stronger."
Prandelli did not start with the 21-year-old Balotelli for the first time at the European Championship in Monday's 2-0 triumph over the Republic of Ireland.
The temperamental forward came off the bench and scored his first goal in the tournament.
"Italy are much stronger if Balotelli plays," Mancini said. "If you look at the other day, he (Balotelli) came on, made an impact in the game and scored a splendid goal.
"I don't want to steal Prandelli's job because he is doing very well, but I consider Mario the best Italian striker.
"Mario is a champion and champions help you to win things.
"(Antonio) Cassano is a second striker and Di Natale is good but has different characteristics with respect to Balotelli."
Mancini, who led City to their first Barclays Premier League title since 1968 this season, expects a very difficult game on Sunday.
"England have to thank (former national coach) Fabio Capello," he said. "I don't want to defend him but that is the simple truth.
"You can see the work of a good and experienced coach like Capello is in this team.
"England are a well organised side who know what they want.
"(England manager) Roy Hodgson is an Italian Englishman.
"He is intelligent, good and crafty - the right man to continue Capello's work.
"England wait for their opponents and hit them on the counter-attack.
"This is the kind of football that we, Italians, were masters at for a long time.
"They have understood that winning is what matters at tournaments and Hodgson has always been a pragmatic coach.
"Italy will have to be aware of them on the break, but also make the most of their own characteristics - technique, speed and possession.
"It would be an error to take on England with force and aerial play."
Meanwhile England and Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart insists there's little point trying to wind up Balotelli.
He said: "I don't think it's particularly on-field people who push his buttons.
"If anything were to happen, it's usually the situations around it."
And there are certainly plenty of potential "situations" when it comes to Balotelli, who has become one of the most talked about and written about players in the game.
The 21-year-old has found himself on the front pages of newspapers as often as the back, both in England and his native Italy, and it has become increasingly difficult to determine where the truth ends and the legend begins.
"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.
"But he has got broad shoulders and whatever's written about him will not affect him and I know that, I know that personally.
"People can keep writing. He wasn't bothered that things were made up about him because he lets things just kind of slide off."
Hart added: "He is what he is, Mario.
"I think 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."