Goals from Claudio Marchisio and Mario Balotelli gave Italy a well-deserved 2-1 victory over England in balmy Manaus on Saturday night. Daniel Sturridge had equalised in the first half for the Three Lions in a game which Antonio Candreva and Andrea Pirlo starred.
With the absence of the calming goalkeeping presence of Gianluigi Buffon between the Italian sticks, the English were keen to test replacement Salvatore Sirigu. First Raheem Sterling fooled much of the crowd and BBC’s scoreboard by rippling the side of the Azzurri netting. Then it was the turn of Jordan Henderson, he forced the save from Sirigu after a fine strike from distance in a fifteen minutes which England dominated.
The English onslaught on the Italian half with counter attacks continued to the half hour mark with Sterling and Welbeck the main protagonists. Their pace down the wide areas was troubling for Matteo Darmian and Giorgio Chiellini but despite much probing no breakthrough could be found.
The Azzurri though, took the lead ten minutes before the half. Candreva took the corner, Andrea Pirlo stepped brilliantly over the ball to allow its transition to Marchisio. The Juventus midfielder lined the ball up before driving it low into the bottom corner with Joe Hart beaten all ends up.
Just two minutes later, England got the goal which their industry deserved. Sterling broke through midfield before sliding the ball behind Darmian into the path of Rooney. The Manchester United forward picked out his rival at club level Sturridge, who stabbed it into the bottom corner from close range.
Five minutes removed from the half time break in which it was confirmed Gary Lewin, the England physio had dislocated his ankle, a familiar face put England behind. Candreva is a classy footballer and when he got time and space on the right side of the Italian midfield, you just knew a chance was coming, and it did. His cross was inch perfect for Balotelli and the AC Milan striker headed past former teammate Joe Hart to put the four time world champions in front.
Just past the hour mark, Rooney made a mess of the best opportunity his side had had since falling behind. Leighton Baines seeked to make up for his failure to close down Candreva for Italy’s second by sliding through Rooney. He cut back inside Paletta before pushing his effort agonisingly wide of the post.
The final half hour was a bit of a damp squib, with just a late Pirlo free kick waking up the viewers across the world. England next face Uruguay on Thursday and Italy face group leaders Costa Rica on Friday.
England: Joe Hart; Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines; Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson (Jack Wilshere 73); Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck (Ross Barkley 61), Wayne Rooney; Daniel Sturridge (Adam Lallana 79).
Subs not used: Ben Foster (GK), Fraser Forster (GK), Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, James Milner, Frank Lampard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rickie Lambert.
Booked: Sterling (90)
Italy: Salvatore Sirigu; Matteo Darmian, Gabriel Paletta, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini; Daniele De Rossi; Andrea Pirlo, Marco Verratti (Thiago Motta 57); Antonio Candreva (Marco Parolo 79), Claudio Marchisio; Mario Balotelli (Ciro Immobile 72)
Subs not used: Mattia Perin (GK), Ignazio Abate, Leonardo Bonucci, Mattia De Sciglio, Alberto Aquilani, Lorenzo Insigne, Alessio Cerci, Antonio Cassano.
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands)
Extratime.com Man of the Match: Antonio Candreva (Italy)