England 1-2 Italy
The Three Lions, despite an excellent attacking performance, lost their first World Cup match last night to an ‘off-form’ Italy side. Marchisio’s lead was cancelled out ninety seconds later as Sturridge equalised immediately. Poster boy Balotelli won the match in the second half though with a close range header.
After all the hype, expectation, worrying and doubting of England’s ‘nightmare’ opener with Italy in Manaus, there was a sigh of relief as England and Italy kicked off their World Cup with an encounter in the middle of the Amazon.
England started unbelievably brightly and as Sterling’s early long shot hit the net the entire nation saw the scoreboard change over hopefully. But it had actually hit the side netting. Jordan Henderson had a shot from distance soon after but as it rose, it was parried well by Sirigu [in for injured Buffon]. As Antonio Candreva turned past Gary Cahill, he shot low at Hart, who let the ball wobble out unconvincingly. As Welbeck slotted the ball past an Italian defender and then collected the ball, his cross was deflected agonisingly too high for Sturridge. The Liverpool forward even put his arms up to try and convert the ball in some way.
Italy’s corner in the thirty-fifth minute was a work of art. Defender Barzagli took it short to Marco Veratti, who passed to Pirlo. Juventus’ maestro of a midfielder Pirlo let the ball run through his legs to club teammate Marchisio, who teed himself up before firing through five England defenders and then Joe Hart.
All of ninety seconds later, and England found the net themselves. A magical through ball from Raheem Sterling was met by temporary left-winger Rooney. His cross was a delightful one, and the eager man was Daniel Sturridge, who tapped the ball home for an instant equaliser.
As Pirlo passed through to Mario Balotelli, Hart forced the Milan forward backwards. Balotelli produced an audacious chip; though the excellent shot was headed up and off the line brilliantly by Phil Jagielka. A few minutes later, Italy were back again through Candreva. The Lazio midfielder got past Cahill and shot low at Hart’s front post. England’s number one dived to divert the ball onto his post and out.
As Daniel Sturridge tried to sway the match in England’s favour, he took a long and low shot. Though Salvatore Sirigu saved well. Candreva, again causing England problems, faked to cross past Leighton Baines one way, but then turned to smartly send an in-swinger into the box. Mario Balotelli met the ball perfectly to head the ball past his former club colleague and into the net.
England desperately tried to get back into the match, and as Baines set Rooney free, the biggest chance of his England career devastatingly rippled the side netting. Minutes later and a Leighton Baines free-kick was parried well by Sirigu.
You felt that Pirlo would have at least one moment of magic and it unfolded as a long, long range free-kick. The teasing shot curled inside, then out, but lashed off the crossbar and it ended there. England has to look now at Thursday’s encounter with Oscar Tabarez’s Uruguay as a winnable match. But last night’s match sadly ended 2-1 to the Azzuri.