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Rooney: Italy clash even steven

ENGLAND striker Wayne Rooney believes Sunday's Euro 2012 quarter-final with Italy is balanced on a knife-edge.

While most fans -- and manager Roy Hodgson -- were relieved the Three Lions managed to avoid Spain by topping Group D, four-time World Cup winners Italy hardly represent a soft option.

Rooney knows all about Mario Balotelli, following his exploits for Manchester City, while Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo have been top stars for many years now.

Antonio Cassano has also impressed, on the field at least.

Little wonder Rooney concludes the game in Kiev is too close to call.

"Italy will be a tough game," the Manchester United forward said. "We will have to be at our best to win it.

"They are quite similar to us in the way they play and have match-winners in Balotelli and Cassano.

"Pirlo is also a great player. I would say it is 50-50 going into the game."

Rooney expects to make a more consistent contribution than his effort against Ukraine.

Even though he scored his 29th international goal, Rooney showed definite signs of rustiness on his first start in five weeks.

However, he feels his performances will improve.

"I was in and out," he said.

"A couple of times I was a bit sloppy with the ball. That will only get better by playing the game.

"I am happy with the goal and happy I got myself a few goalscoring opportunities.

"I wanted to repay the manager for sticking with me. It probably wasn't an easy decision to bring me to the Euros, so for him to bring me straight back into the team and then to score was a great feeling."

Rooney was also full of praise for skipper Steven Gerrard, who was awarded the man-of-the-match prize by UEFA after being the architect behind his third goal of the five in England's campaign so far.

"Steven is leading by example," said Rooney. "His performance in Donetsk was once of his best in an England shirt.

"It is important he keeps playing the way he is because he is a massive player for us."

While Rooney was keen to strike a note of caution, Arsenal winger Theo Walcott revealed the growing confidence in the England camp by declaring: "We could beat anyone the way we are playing."

And Walcott says he would not have been fazed by the prospect of meeting tournament favourites Spain.

He said: "Did we want to avoid Spain? I think it doesn't matter. Every team you come against is going to be challenging.

"The Italians will be tough but we've got some great players in that dressing room and I think we can go far. I feel we believe we could beat anyone the way we are playing as well.

"If we play to the best of our ability, who knows what can happen? Anything can happen. We defend well, we always know we can score goals so, if we keep clean sheets, we will definitely win."