Italy gained all three points in their opening match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, outlasting England 2-1 in the heat of Manaus on Saturday.
Mario Balotelli came through when needed the most, scoring the winner off a header five minutes into the second half to break a 1-1 tie.
Claudio Marchisio opened the scoring to give Italy a first-half lead, before Daniel Sturridge replied for England two minutes later.
Salvatore Sirigu started in net in place of injured captain Gianluigi Buffo for Italy, and carried himself well, stopping several dangerous English chances.
An even match tilted Italy’s way in the 50th minute when an Azzurri attack caught England on the break. Antonio Candreva sent a great cross to the far post and the towering Balotelli made no mistake, heading his first World Cup goal past English keeper Joe Hart.
Man of the match
Antonio Candreva. The young Italian midfielder set up Balotelli’s winner with a fantastic cross, hit the post, and was a menace for the English defence all game.
It was a good day for…
Goals. Seven games into the 2014 World Cup, we have 25 goals. In 2010 at this point, we had 12. Also, no draws. If this is a sign of things to come, we could be in for a classic World Cup.
It was a bad day for…
Wayne Rooney. Despite his success at club level, the English star still couldn't impose his will on a major international match. He missed a glorious chance to tie the game in the latter stages, and is still looking for his first goal at a World Cup.
They said it
"It was difficult. They caused us many problems on the left side in the first half. But with a few tweaks and changes we handled it better in the second half. But still disappointed to come away with no points." — Steven Gerrard, England captain
Overall entertainment rating
4/4. Fantastic match, went end-to-end nearly the whole way despite the heat. We’ve been spoiled in the early days of the tournament.
What does this mean?
With Uruguay’s loss earlier Saturday, Italy is in great shape to advance from Group D. But it makes their next match against Costa Rica on Friday (CBC TV, cbc.ca/fifaworldcup, Noon ET), a bit trickier, as Los Ticos look like they’re much more dangerous than first thought.
The Azzurri need Buffon to return in order to feel much more comfortable.
Despite the loss, England should be happy with their effort. The Three Lions gave the Azzurri everything they could handle, and looked very dangerous in attack. But England needs a win as badly as Uruguay does in their clash on Thursday (CBC TV, cbc.ca/fifaworldcup, 3 p.m. ET).