July 3, 2014 by backofthenetjl
Italy weathered the English storm, and conjured up a professional display to overcome an England side, who proved worthy competitors. Milan manic Mario Balotelli grabbed the headlines, coming up with the winner to give the Azzurri a win in their opening fixture.
Italy lined up without the injured Buffon in goal, so Salvatore Sirigu slotted in between the sticks. Mattia De Scigilio was also absent from the side, meaning Chiellini deputised at Left-back. Darmian, Barzagli and Paletta completed the defence. Ahead of them were a host of technically gifted players in Candreva, Pirlo, De Rossi, Verratti and Marchisio, aiming to provide service for lone striker Balotelli.
Admittedly, Italy didn’t start the game in quick fashion, playing at a relatively slow tempo with caution, though they did create a few early openings. They could have well been behind three minutes into the match as Raheem Sterling weaved into a bit of space and unleased a devastating shot which crashed into the side-netting; many had thought he had found the net. To be fair to England, they applied heavy pressure on the Azzurri, nearly earning their rewards when Sirigu was forced to palm away a sweet strike from Henderson. Italy began to grow in the game and soon took a foothold of the midfield, with the numbers game in their favour. Pirlo shone yet again, effortlessly spraying passes all over the pitch. The Juventus man had appeals for a penalty turned down in the 8th minute; it was one which was very much debatable.
As Italy made their mark on the match, Darmian and Candreva impressed on the right-hand side, often creating a 2v1 situation against Leighton Baines; the Everton left-back had a difficult night. Yet even with such large spells of possession, Balotelli was somewhat Isolated up top, and when Sturridge, Sterling and co got going, Italy were troubled. The Italians first real meaningful chance was a swerving effort from Candreva, which Joe Hart just about dealt with. England still looked a threat on the break, and but for a great block from Barazgli to cut out Welbeck’s cross, Sturridge may well have put the three lions ahead.
In the 34th minute, Italy made the breakthrough. A well-worked corner routine featuring an impeccably-executed dummy from Pirlo, lead to Marchisio rolling the ball home from the edge of the box, and wheeling away in celebration. However England hit back quickly, levelling the scores moments later through Sturridge, after excellent work from Sterling and Rooney. As the half drew to a close, Italy found another gear and two great chances in quick succession. First, Pirlo fed Balotelli through with a delicious pass; The former Manchester City man rounded Joe Hart, paused and out of nowhere attempted a quite audacious effort; fortunately Jagielka was on hand to head the ball off the line. From the resulting corner, Candreva found space on the left, worked the ball inside and struck the ball at Joe Hart’s near post; England were let off the hook.
Italy made a prompt start in the second period, regaining the lead in the 50th minute. Candreva outwitted Baines on the right and swung in a deep cross for Balotelli, who nodded home past the helpless Joe Hart. Italy were ahead for the second time. Almost immediately after, Welbeck was seemingly bundled over in the box by Chiellini, though the referee waved away any protests. There was another incident in which England had a penalty shout, but this time Gerrard appeared reluctant to show a true appeal. The first substitution Prandelli made was to replace Pirlo’s potential heir Verratti with his PSG compatriot Thiago Motta, in order to restore a bit more control on Italy’s part. That did happen for a brief period of time, as the Euro 2012 finalists took the sting out of the game. Nevertheless, England still attacked Italy, with Sirigu called into action to deny substitute Ross Barkley, as well as a curling Leighton Baines free-kick. Italy saw the game out till the final stages, and may well have increased their lead in stoppage time, as Pirlo delivered the most outrageous free-kick, which clipped the bar.
Italy held on for the win, getting off to a good start in the tournament, and ending their miserable run without a win. They now face minnows Costa Rica in their next group game.