England fall to Italy

It took a resolute second-half performance from Italy to edge out England in their opening Group D game at the World Cup in Manaus. 

Roy Hodgson’s men will think themselves unlucky not to have earned a draw, enjoying the lion’s share of goal attempts after Claudio Marchisio gave Italy the lead. 

England 1-2 Italy

2014 FIFA World Cup
Group D
Arena Amazonia
Saturday 14 June 2014

Daniel Sturridge levelled almost instantly, but former Manchester City man Mario Balotelli headed a winner early in the second half to get Cesare Prandelli’s side off to a winning start.

After almost eight months of talk and anticipation since the win over Poland, the waiting finally was over as Hodgson’s side took to the Arena Amazonia pitch.

Livewire winger Raheem Sterling was given the nod to start in place of Adam Lallana who played against both Peru and Ecuador.

And it was the Liverpool man who almost gave England an early lead with a rasping drive that had Italy’s second-choice keeper Salvatore Sirigu well-beaten only to ripple the side-netting.

Jordan Henderson vys for the ball with Mario Balotelli

Jordan Henderson battles for the ball with Mario Balotelli

His Reds team-mate Jordan Henderson tried another fierce drive moments later, but this time the Paris Saint-Germain stopper – an 11th-hour change for the injured Gianluigi Buffon – beat it away.

Danny Welbeck tried to make the most of a misplaced clearance, but dragged another strike wide from 20 yards.

Italy, though, were enjoying much of the early possession, progressing forward in numbers through the middle with support coming from wide, particularly Matteo Darmian on the right flank.

Italy were slow and patient, as the Three Lions closed the gaps to deny the space.

When England won the ball back, their breaks were quick and with purpose.

Claudio Marchisio scores for Italy

Claudio Marchisio fires home for Italy

Joe Hart was called into action midway through the first half when Antonio Candreva belted a shot goalwards, which bounced up in front of the Manchester City man making it difficult to deal with. Phil Jagielka was on hand to mop up.

Hart’s former team-mate Balotelli then sprung to life, firing goalwards when in space, but that was off target.

England, though, were having joy getting in behind the Azzurri rearguard and it took a last-ditch slide from Gabriel Paletta to deflect a dangerous Welbeck cross, destined for Sterling six yards out, away for a corner.  

Then Marchisio opened the scoring and put Italy in charge. Andrea Pirlo let a corner run to his Juventus team-mate in a central position 25 yards out and he took one touch before drilling expertly into the corner of Hart’s net.

England players congratulate Daniel Sturridge

England players congratulate Daniel Sturridge after his equaliser

Within two minutes, though, England responded as Sturridge tucked away from close-range. Wayne Rooney’s cross from the left had turned the Italian defence, the Liverpool striker applied the finish and he peeled away to perform his now-famous dance celebration.

The game swung back into Azzurri’s favour five minutes after the break. England had come out positive, but an attack on the right from Candreva, who cut inside to cross, found Balotelli unmarked at the far post to nod home.

Hodgson’s men were creating openings and Wayne Rooney came close, dragging wide after a neat more. Then the lively substitute Ross Barkley gave Sirigu something to deal with down low to his left.

Glen Johnson also tried a shot on goal, while Baines forced another save with a dipping free-kick as England strived for an equaliser.

Raheem Sterling surges forward with the ball

Raheem Sterling surges forward for England

Italy retreated into their half, as their attentions turned to stopping Sterling and Sturridge by any means necessary.

Late efforts from Gerrard – another free-kick – and Rooney were in vain, while Pirlo’s injury time free-kick crashed off the crossbar. 

The defeat will be a setback to England, although their attacking pace and flair will certainly give Hodgson something to be feel positive about as he plans for Uruguay on Thursday. 

England (4-2-3-1): 1 Joe Hart; 2 Glen Johnson, 5 Gary Cahill, 6 Phil Jagielka, 3 Leighton Baines; 4 Steven Gerrard (C), 14 Jordan Henderson; 19 Raheem Sterling, 10 Wayne Rooney, 11 Danny Welbeck; 9 Daniel Sturridge.

Substitutes: 21 Ross Barkley (for Welbeck) 62, 7 Jack Wilshere (on for Henderson) 73, 20 Adam Lallana (for Sturridge) 79.

Substitutes not used: 13 Ben Foster (GK), 22 Fraser Forster (GK), 8 Frank Lampard, 12 Chris Smalling, 16 Phil Jones, 17 James Milner, 18 Rickie Lambert, 23 Luke Shaw.

Goals: Sturridge 37

Bookings: Sterling

Unavailable: 15 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Manager: Roy Hodgson

Italy (4-1-3-1-1): 12 Salvatore Sirigu; 4 Matteo Darmian, 15 Andrea Barzagli, 20 Gabriel Paletta, 3 Giorgio Chiellini; 16 Daniele De Rossi; 8 Claudio Marchisio, 21 Andrea Pirlo, 23 Marco Verratti; 6 Antonio Candreva; 9 Mario Balotelli.

Substitutes: 5 Thiago Motta (for Veratti) 57, 17 Ciro Immobile (for Balotelli) 73, 18 Marco Parolo (for Candreva) 79. 

Substitutes not used: 13 Mattia Perin (GK), 7 Ignazio Abate, 10 Antonio Cassano, 11 Alessio Cerci, 14 Alberto Aquilani, 19 Leonardo Bonucci, 22 Lorenzo Insignie.

Goals: Marchisio 35, Balotelli 50

Bookings: None

Unavailable: 1 Gianluigi Buffon (GK), 2 Mattia De Sciglio.

Head coach: Cesare Prandelli

Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Holland)

Assistants: Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra (Holland)

Fourth official: Walter Lopez (Guatemala)