- Special Features
Blogs & Columns
- Fun & Games
In one of the most highly anticipated games of the opening round of the World Cup, Italy used a second half goal from Mario Balotelli to defeat England 2-1
After Costa Rica's surprise win over Uruguay earlier in the day, both teams went into the game knowing a draw would leave them in a decent position to go through to the next round.
Much was made about Italian goalkeeper Gianuigi Buffon - who has played in a 140 games for Italy including their 2006 Word Cup victory - not starting the game due to injury. In his place was Salvatore Sirigue, who was be playing in his first World Cup game after being an unused reserve in 2010.
After both teams had a chance to settle into the game, Italy was able to strike first in the 35th minute. Claudio Marchisio struck a low but powerful shot into the bottom of the net from just outside the box to beat English keeper Joe Hart.
England did not waste any time getting back into the game. Wayne Rooney set up Daniel Sturridge just two minutes later to tie the game at one a piece. Rooney could not have delivered a better pass, and Sturridege, who is coming off a very successful season with Liverpool where he scored 21 goals in 29 games, made no mistake.
Mario Balotelli would be the hero for Italy, scoring what turned out to be the game winner in the 50th minute with a header off a pass from Antonio Candreva. Balotelli, who has dealt with racism while playing for Italy according to a story published last month by the Daily Mail, was able to use his size and strength to beat his defender in the air for the goal.
English 19-year-old midfielder Raheem Sterling looked impressive at times throughout the game, but picked up a yellow card in the 92nd minute to end his World Cup debut on a bad note. England failed to consistently put pressure on Italy, who was content to sit on the ball with a one goal lead in the second half.
England's best chance to level the score and earn a point from the game was in the 62nd minute when Wayne Rooney failed to put a shot from the center box on target.
Andrea Pirlo nearly put the game out of reach in injury time when his direct free kick swerved through the air only to hit of the crossbar.
ESPN's post game analyst, Michael Ballack, said England needs to give Steven Gerrard more responsibility in the middle of the field in order for them to score goals moving forward in the tournament.
Daniel Sturridge was England's best player according to BleacherReport's player ratings, with Balotelli and Andrea Barzagli being among the standouts for Italy.
England will return to action on Thursday in what they must think of as a must win game against Uruguay. Italy will play Costa Rica on Friday, in what will be a battle for first place in the group as they both currently have three points.