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Balotelli header sinks England

Monday, June 16, 2014

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.

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 their 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.

Following a short corner on the right, Andrea Pirlo cleverly dummied a pass from Marco Verratti for Marchisio, who exploited oceans of space to steady himself and drive a shot into the bottom-left corner.

If England felt hard done-by, they did not show it, for within two minutes they were level thanks to a goal of delightful simplicity.

Sterling's glorious pass released Rooney on the left and the Manchester United man dispatched a delicately weighted left-foot cross that Sturridge crashed home the half-volley.

England's celebrations were not without complications, however, as team physiotherapist Gary Lewin had to be stretchered away from the touchline after hurting his ankle amid the jubilation.

After Sirigu had parried a low strike from Sturridge, in the 50th minute Candreva cut inside Leighton Baines with embarrassing ease on the Italy right and crossed for Balotelli to nod his side ahead from close range.

Steven Gerrard was denied a penalty following a body-check by Gabriel Paletta, before Rooney lashed wide and Sirigu saved from Barkley and Baines, but as the game wore on and the humidity began to weigh even more heavily, so England faded.

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