In the humid Amazonian jungle city of Manaus, the Italians put on a world-class effort to start the tournament off with a victory over the Three Lions.
Roy Hodgson’s new faces of English football were plagued by some of the same issues that hurt their predecessors tonight. They just lacked the final little bit of talent and unity that Italy displayed, same old-same old for England fans. England jumped out with a quick start on Salvatore Sirigu’s goal (Gigi Buffon was declared unfit to play before the game due to an ankle injury), blistering shots on the PSG goalkeeper, but to no avail.
After the first wave of the English attack Italy settled in, and their midfield took over the match. Led by the magician Andrea Pirlo, the Italians kept chipping away at the English defense. Italy broke through in the 35th minute from a crafty corner kick. A short corner was perfectly set up by a dummy run from Pirlo, and the ball found itself at the feet of Claudio Marchisio who smashed a shot from 25 yards past Joe Hart. England, however, took the punch and found an equalizer just 2 minutes later. On a quick counter-attack Wayne Rooney played a fantastic cross into the path of Daniel Sturridge who touched the ball past Sirigu to equalize. On a side note, during the England goal celebration, the English physio Gary Lewin suffered a dislocated ankle, and had to be stretched off the pitch… no, seriously. Italy almost found a second goal when Balotelli found himself one-on-one with Joe Hart away from goal, only to have his chip headed off the line by Phil Jagielka. Nobody could break the lock, and went into the half tied at 1.
Italy came out of the dressing room the much stronger side, and re-took the lead just 5 minutes into the half. Mario Balotelli got free in the box and headed a cross from Candreva past Joe Hart to re-claim the lead. After the second goal, Italy really turned down the ball pressure and were content to give England possession. Hodgson gave Ross Barkley his first World Cup appearance in the 61st minute to try to find some creativity in the midfield, and hopefully lift the English. The Everton man showed flashes of class, but struggled to put it all together. The same can be said with Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, to an extent. Both players could beat the first defender, but struggled to make the right decision after doing so.
England had its chances to equalize in the last 20 minutes of the match, too. However, they could not do much with the ball in their possession; which seems to be a problem that has hurt England since the era of Gary Lineker.
A possible “solution” for Roy Hodgson would be to switch Rooney to the center of the pitch, and play with Sterling wide. Rooney is not a winger type of player, he is better in the withdrawn forward spot of midfield. With Rooney in the center, England will have an extra weapon on the end of crosses from the wingers. (England only completed 1 of 23 crosses in the match)
The Three Lions will face Uruguay on Thursday in a pivotal group D match that could be the end of the tournament for the losers. Italy face a shockingly dangerous Costa Rica team on Friday, which could be a thriller if Costa Rica spring another upset.
England (4-2-3-1) : Hart, Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines, Gerrard, Henderson (Wilshere 73′), Welbeck (Barkley 61′), Sterling, Rooney, Sturridge (Lallana 80′).
Sirigu, Chiellini, Barzagli, Palletta, Darmian, De Rossi, Marchisio, Verratti (Motta 57′), Pirlo, Balotelli (Immobile 73′), Candreva (Parolo 79′).