Rafa Benitez insists England should keep an eye on Thiago Motta when they face Italy at Euro 2012 on Sunday.
The midfielder has started every match for Italy to date in the tournament, but is a doubt for the last-eight clash due to a hamstring problem.
Writing in his column for The Independent, Benitez said Motta was underrated, as he bears as much importance to his team as Andrea Pirlo with his ability to keep the ball and use it wisely.
“It would be some result for England to beat their opponents and while everyone has been talking about Andrea Pirlo, you should look out for Thiago Motta,” Benitez said.
“Believe me, Motta can play.
“He played for me, when I was managing Inter, and against me, in Barcelona’s team versus our Liverpool side in the game we won 2-1 in the Camp Nou on the way to the 2007 Champions League final.
“I’ll never forget how Motta was substituted before an hour of that game had passed in Catalonia, because things were not so difficult for my own team in midfield after he had left the field.”
“Motta is left-footed, good in the air, not fast, but he passes the ball so very well. His left foot is really very, very good.
“I knew him from Barcelona when he was young, breaking into the team at the time when I was managing Valencia, and though he was born in Brazil he fitted in very well with the other players.
“When I first arrived at Inter, Motta was injured, but when he came back he did really well for us. He was a quality player in our midfield – our Pirlo, if you like.”
Benitez also spoke about another ex-player of his, Mario Balotelli, and is of the opinion that the striker has the potential to decide the crunch clash against England, regardless of his temperament.
“We were already preparing to sell him to Manchester City at the time so he was not part of the plans,” he said.
“We were trying to protect him for that transfer. But in the training sessions you could see the talent. Finding space, scoring goals, good in the air: these were the qualities I saw in him.
“He is a very special talent who – how can I put it? – needs a very special understanding from a manager. I think he will be fine tomorrow (Sunday).
“Everyone in the Italy set-up will be talking about the risks that come with him and everybody will be looking out for him, to make sure he does not do something crazy on the pitch.
“Italy will be managing the situation, whether he starts the game or comes on from the bench.”
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