England 1 Italy 2: Mario Balotelli settles thriller in Azzurri's favour
Claudio Marchisio puts Italy in front, but England equalise straight away through Daniel Sturridge before AC Milan striker scores second-half winner
Mario Balotelli came back to haunt England with the winning goal as Italy began their World Cup campaign with a 2-1 win over England in Manaus on Saturday.
Claudio Marchisio had given the Italians a 35th minute lead with a rasping low drive into the bottom corner but Daniel Sturridge converted Wayne Rooney’s deep cross to the back post just two minutes later to equalise.
Watch: Claudio Marchisio opens the scoring for Italy
Watch: Daniel Sturridge levels for England
Just five minutes into the second period, Balotelli headed home Antonio Candreva’s cross from close range.
The result leaves England in a desperate situation ahead of their next match against Uruguay, who earlier were stunned 3-1 by Costa Rica, in Sao Paulo on June 19.
“Italy were a very good team tonight and we fell a bit short,” said England captain Steven Gerrard.
“But we’re still very much alive in this group.”
Italy were worthy winners with Andrea Pirlo almost putting some gloss on the result deep into injury time with a free-kick that crashed back off the bar.
England’s performance was full of flair and and an immeasureable improvement on their dire quarter-final defeat to the same opponents at Euro 2012 on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
But they still have not beaten Italy since 1977 and the difference between the two sides was Italy’s clinical use of the ball in the final third.
England manager Roy Hodgson found the result hard to swallow.
“It’s always difficult when you lose a game to take the positives. Even when it was 2-1, I thought we’d get back into it and go on to win it because it was quite a dominant second-half performance,” Hodgson said.
“The only positive I can take is that it was undoubtedly the best I’ve seen the team play during my time with them,” said Hodgson who took over as England manager two years ago.
“Of course we can still qualify. We’re a bit downhearted at the moment, a bit sad that the game didn’t go our way – we were hoping for a perfect start but we don’t live in a perfect world,” he said.
“I’ve got great confidence that we can do well enough in the next two games to qualify and I’m sure the players will get that when they get over this disappointment.”
Hodgson was pleased with the way his team restricted Italy’s attack but frustrated at his players’ inability to deliver precise final passes.
“It’s a bit tough to accept that we lost the game, especially considering there were so few shots on our goal in the second half,” he said.
“[Goalkeeper] Joe Hart had a pretty quiet evening really and yet we find ourselves having lost. We know we played against a good team and to take them so close gives us great confidence that we can do well against Uruguay and Costa Rica and still progress in the tournament.
“Our final ball was a bit disappointing today – we’re better than that. I thought especially towards the end when we were desperate for that goal I thought there were several situations where we were in good crossing or shooting positions and we didn’t take advantage of it and that’s something we need to work on.
“But we are a young team and this is the first World Cup for almost two thirds of the team so I think this is something we will improve upon going forward,” he said.