Italy held off England 2-1 in Manaus in both sides Group D opener on Saturday night.
Just a couple of hours before the match begun, Azzurri Manager Cesare Prandelli had to scratch goalkeeper and Captain Gianluigi Buffon, who suffered an injury.
Prandelli’s set up against England with Mario Balotelli acting as single forward, while the Italian coach choose to play with a double playmaker: Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verratti both in the middle of the pitch. Their influence was vital in Italy’s victory.
On the other hand England Manager Roy Hodgson relied on the Liverpool’s players, choosing five Reds to start: Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge. England’s midfield clearly lacked the quality of Italy, but their pace gave Italy fits.
In fact, despite Italy’s technique in the middle of the field, England created the best chances in the first 25 minutes. A quick shot by Sterling, coming after a series fast dribbling on left-back Giorgio Chiellini, gave England the opening salvo.
After 35 minutes Claudio Marchisio scored the opener after a magnificent dummy by Andrea Pirlo, who faked a shoot after a short corner, leaving the try to Marchisio. Juventus midfielder hit the target from more than 25 meters, making it 1-0 for the Azzurri.
But minutes later Three Lions scored the equalizer with Daniel Sturridge, off an amazing assist, delivered by Wayne Rooney. The move started with Raheem Sterling playing a perfectly weighted ball to Rooney was streaking down the left side. Before the end of first half, both Balotelli and Candreva each had a chance to put Italy in front but both were denied.
After five minutes into the second half, Mario Balotelli made the Azzurri crazy with joy completing a classy header after an amazing pass from Antonio Candreva.
After the former Manchester City man recorded the goal, the rhythm of the match was getting slower and slower, with the two Azzurri playmakers making the English midfielders chase a lot. In the second half, the Azzurri rarely conceded a chance inside the danger area to England who were wasteful in the attacking third throughout the second half.
After Uruguay’s stunning loss against Costa Rica, Group D is surprisingly led by the Central Americans just ahead of the four times World Cup winners on goal difference. They will play each other in the next match this coming Friday. England will play a vital game against Uruguay who will hope for a Luis Suarez’s comeback.