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Balotelli heads Italy to three big points

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Photo: Mario Balotelli heads home the winner for Italy over England in the World Cup opener (Getty Images)

 

After witnessing Costa Rica getting the better of Uruguay 3-1, both Italy and England knew that getting a positive result would be vital in the fight to advance to the knock out stages of the FIFA World Cup 2014. In the heat in Manaus, the fans were treated to an exciting game but it was the Azzuri who came out on top 2-1.

The Three Lions started brightly with Liverpool's young speedster Raheem Sterling ripping a wonderful effort from about 25 yards into the side-netting worrying Salvatore Sirigu in goal for an injured Gianluigi Buffon. Jordan Henderson tested the PSG keeper 2 minutes later but he saved quite comfortably.

The Italians were bossing possession at this point thanks to their midfield trio of Andrea Pirlo, Marco Verratti and Daniele De Rossi. England on the other hand were looking to break on the counter using their pace thanks to the outlet provided by Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Sterling.

England almost took the lead on 24 minutes when Sturridge released Danny Welbeck down the right but his cross was cut out brilliantly by Andrea Barzagli to deny Sturridge a simple tap-in.

Mario Balotelli got a great chance in the 33rd minute but couldn't hit the target from Matteo Darmian's cross. Claudio Marchisio broke the deadlock on 35 minutes with a wonderful drive from outside the penalty area.

A corner was taken short to Verratti who passed to Pirlo but he ran over the ball giving his Juventus teammate enough time and space to pick his spot and fire past four defenders and Joe Hart in goal.

England responded 2 minutes later through Sturridge who converted a delightful cross from Rooney following a fast break. Sterling picked up a loose ball and released Rooney out on the left. The Man United striker picked out Sturridge beautifully with his left-footed cross to bring England level.

Balotelli almost gave Italy a half time lead when his chipped shot over Hart from a tight angle was cleared off the line by Phil Jagielka in first half added time. Antonio Candreva almost scored with virtually the last kick of the first half but his shot cannoned off the upright with Hart beaten.

Italy took the lead just 5 minutes after the restart when Balotelli headed home a Candreva cross, scoring the all important goal for the win. The Lazio wide man used his trickery to get pass Leighton Baines then picked out the Milan striker with a great left-footed cross.

England tried to respond but Rooney's shot following a great run through midfield went high and wide on 54 minutes. Steven Gerrard was brought down in the penalty area 2 minutes later but it was good defending from Gabriel Paletta and no penalty was awarded.

Rooney should have scored or at least hit the target on 62 minutes when he dragged his shot from inside the box fractionally wide of Sirigu's right hand upright. Glen Johnson tried his luck on 73 minutes from range but his left-footed shot went wide even though it had Sirigu in trouble.

England brought on young Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Jack Wilshere to try fashion an opening but they could not breakdown the Azzuri defense. Pirlo almost put a bit of shine on the result but his free kick crashed off the crossbar leaving Hart rooted to the spot in added time. 

Italy has taken a big stride towards the knockout stages with a massive three points but it was by no means comfortable. The Three Lions made a fight of it and caused some problems, particularly Sterling. Roy Hodgson will take a lot of positives from this display as there were signs that they can get the necessary points from their remaining two group games.