The shock defeat of Uruguay by Costa Rica in the first match of this group, made the England and Italy match even more important, as whoever wins this would fancy their chances of topping group D. However, I had only concluded that nothing else would surprise me again, in this World Cup of surprises.
The English attacking line up of quick young players; Welbeck, Sterling and Sturridge suggested they wanted to utilise their pace in stretching the ageing Italian defence. The ever present Buffon, who picked up a knock in training, was replaced by Salvatore Sirigu, the PSG keeper and Pirlo had the chance to captain the Italian team as a result.
The game started with the English attackers harrying Pirlo to ensure he doesn’t settle into his game. On the 3rd minute the fearless Sterling drove in and fired a shot from distance which rifled the side netting. Henderson’s shot some minutes later showed the English intent. The Italians however began to slow the game down and started to control proceedings gradually. The masterful Pirlo began to patrol the midfield and spread passes across the pitch.
The English defenders were doing a good job at keeping Balotelli, the lone Italian striker quiet. On the 21st minute, a teasing cross by Sterling saw the on rushing Welbeck smothered by the Italian defenders. Then, a minute after Balotelli’s searing shot from distance led to a goal kick, a stretching leg from Barzagli took the ball away from Sturridge at the opposite end as he bore in on goal.
The game was looking more like a training session with all intensity gone and begged for a goal to liven up proceedings. Italy’s first corner of the game came on the 35th minute and Pirlo’s dummy presented space for Marchisio to shoot and he took the invitation with aplomb. Goal; beautifully worked, straight from the training ground. The equaliser came just two minutes after, a lovely pass from Sterling, released the hitherto anonymous Rooney and he found Sturridge, who stroked the ball into the net. The game was almost petering off, when a pass from Pirlo released Balotelli, who weaved his way round the keeper and lobbed the ball over his head but the alert Jagielka was on hand to head off the line. Half time scores; Italy1: England 1.
The second half started with England probing but getting no change from the Italian defence. In the 50th minute, a great move from defence, saw Candreva drive in from the right and picking out the head of Balotelli, who headed home clinically. Italy 2: England 1. England again started to push for an equaliser with Rooney coming close and a cross from Johnson creating panic in the Italian defence.
Italy replaced Marco Verratti with Thiago Motta in the 56th minute, another midfield runner to help out Pirlo. England responded by replacing Welbeck with Ross Barkley. Rooney missed, at the other end Candreva created panic and on the counter, Barkley saw his shot saved. The English laid siege on the Italian defence but the Italians were comfortably holding them off and finding Balotelli to hold up play.
Balotelli was replaced by Immobile; the top scorer in Seria A while Wilshere came on for Henderson for the English. Chiellini fouled Sturridge and Baines’ free kick was well saved by Sirigu. Italy replaced Candreva with Marco Parolo while Sturridge was replaced with Adam Lallana.
The experienced Italians sat deep to close out the game. A foul on Lallana led to a well placed free kick but Gerrard couldn’t bring the ball down. Barkley drove in and laid the ball for Rooney whose shot went high. In the closing minutes Pirlo released Parolo, who was brought down by Sterling, earning him the first yellow card of the game. Shortly after, another foul on Thiago Motta offered the peerless Pirlo an opportunity to shoot but his audacious free kick hit the crossbar. The Italians ended on a high with Cahill’s timely tackle on a countering Immobile saving the English blushes.
Game over; Italy 2: England 1. Advantage Italy.