Despite a brave performance, England came up short against Italy in Manaus, Alex Bowmer reviews the action.
The first half began brightly, with Raheem Sterling seemingly hitting the top corner with a rasping 30-yard drive (the only suspicious thing being that neither Sterling nor any of his team-mates celebrated at all) replays soon showed the ball hitting the side netting. The tricky Liverpool man was a menace throughout most of the game and was an instrumental part in much of England’s best play. However, despite a good start, including a glorious chance for Daniel Sturridge and a stinging shot from Jordan Henderson, there was still no breakthrough. Italy had chances of their own, with the impressive Antonio Candreva giving Hart an anxious moment with an audacious attempt, before a well-worked set piece, including a brilliant dummy by Andrea Pirlo, saw Claudio Marchisio shoot crisply into the bottom corner past the despairing dive of Joe Hart.
England did not dwell on this setback, and only a few minutes after Italy’s opener the impressive Sterling threaded a superb through-ball to Rooney, who then hit a brilliant cross into the path of Sturridge, who duly snapped up the opportunity. The enigmatic Mario Balotelli then saw his first chance of the match go begging when his chip over a helpless Hart was headed off the line by Phil Jagielka. A few minutes later, Marchisio’s ball over the top found Candreva, who cut inside and hit a snapshot that Hart did well to turn onto the post.
Italy’s period of dominance finally paid off just after the interval, with the Balotelli getting on the scoresheet. After Candreva had turned Baines inside-out, he floated an inviting cross into the box, Balotelli then peeled off Gary Cahill at the back stick to power a header home. To England’s credit, they kept pressing after this deflating moment. Steven Gerrard had a penalty appeal turned down, Rooney drove narrowly wide, and Leighton Baines had a curling free-kick well-saved by Italy’s stand-in goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu. Ross Barkley also made an impression in his cameo appearance, and his bold run almost resulted in a goal, but he was denied by Sirigu. The imperious Pirlo then almost added to Italy’s advantage late on, wafting his right-footed free-kick against the bar.
Overall, it was performance with a lot of promise. It was exciting to see England unleash the shackles after previous tournaments dominated by conservative, stodgy football. However, the possession statistics show that England may continue to struggle in the years to come against teams with technically superior players, like Italy. The match did suggest though that England have the quality and attacking intent to win both of their remaining group games.
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