FIFA World Cup: Balotelli sinks England in muggy Manaus
Manaus (Brazil): Mario Balotelli’s second-half header earned Italy a 2-1 victory over an enterprising England side in an engaging World Cup Group D opener in Manaus on Saturday.
Amid muggy conditions in the Amazon rainforest city, Claudio Marchisio drilled Italy in front in the 35th minute, only for Daniel Sturridge to equalise two minutes later after a sweeping England counter-attack.
With 19-year-old Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling to the fore, England displayed plenty of endeavour, but they were ultimately undone by former Manchester City striker Balotelli’s goal shortly after half-time.
His header prevented England from avenging their defeat on penalties by Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 and left Cesare Prandelli’s side well placed ahead of Friday’s meeting with Costa Rica — shock 3-1 victors against Uruguay earlier in the day — in Recife.
England manager Roy Hodgson will have drawn encouragement from his youthful side’s attacking vigour, but victory against a hurting Uruguay will now be imperative when the teams collide in Sao Paulo on Thursday.
While Salvatore Sirigu deputised for the injured Gianluigi Buffon in goal for Italy, Hodgson sprang something of a surprise by fielding Sterling as a number 10, which obliged Wayne Rooney to play on the left.
Sterling was quick to catch the eye at the Amazonia Arena, lashing a 30-yard shot into the side netting, and his example encouraged Jordan Henderson to test Sirigu at his near post with a powerful strike.
As England continued to press, Sterling drilled a cross across goal, before Italy centre-back Andrea Barzagli toed a centre from Danny Welbeck across the face of his own goal and wide.