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Balotelli header the difference as Italy top England

MarioBalotelliItaly3-EnglandWorldCup2014Goal (Getty)


The second battle of international heavyweights produced the tournament’s first neck-and-neck battle as Saturday’s headliner between Italy and England lived up to the hype that proceeded it.

Playing in the heat and humidity at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus, the more experienced Italians put together a complete performance, holding off England for a 2-1 victory. Mario Balotelli’s second-half header proved to be the difference for the Azzuri against the Three Lions.

The scoring was nearly opened by England youngster Raheem Sterling just minutes into his World Cup debut, as the 19-year-old’s long-distance strike nearly missed into the goal’s side netting.

However, it was Italy’s Claudio Marchisio who got the party started from distance in the 35th minute with a strike from the top of the box that gave the 2006 World Cup champions a 1-0 lead.

England found their answer virtually immediately by way of Liverpool star Daniel Sturridge, whose equalizer essentially came before the opposition could even finish their celebration. Sterling kicked-off the build up with a perfectly weighted through ball into the path of Wayne Rooney, whose cross from the left side found a streaking Sturridge for the equalizing finish.

Italy responded to Sturridge’s equalizer with a superb performance in the midfield, as Pirlo, Antonio Candreva and Matteo Darmian repeatedly overloaded England’s left side of Leighton Baines and Wayne Rooney.

The Italians deservedly took the lead for good in the game’s 50th minute via a Balotelli header. Candreva found himself in space on the right side of England’s box and fired a ball toward the far post. England centerback Gary Cahill was caught ball-watching, leaving the 23-year-old AC Milan star with plenty of room to smash the ball past the England goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Manager Roy Hodgson made the decision midway through the second half to unleash substitutes Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere and Adam Lallana to join fellow youngsters Sturridge and Sterling, but aside from a Barkley shot just moments after coming on, the trio of substitutes proved to be relatively ineffective.

The best chance of the game’s final forty minutes came via Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo. Taking a free kick from 30-yards out in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time, Pirlo blasted a shot with the outside of his right boot that caught Hart moving the wrong way. Fortunately for the England goalkeeper, the free kick slammed off the crossbar.

England failed to display any sense of urgency in the game’s final moments as Italy deservedly escaped a hot, humid Manaus with all three points.


  1. England looked better than in 2010. They are not done by any means, but having Gerrard play behind Rooney and Sturridge could produce a nice little triangle. Rooney would be the playmaking forward behind a playmaker (Gerrard). Sturridge could be the counter attack target. It could make the offense interesting for England.

  2. Here is the hilarious truth about the EPL: It does little for English players. At one point, there were four Everton players on the field. I mean, Everton is a nice, solid side…but four? (Add the Liverpool players and it looked like a Merseyside all start game.) The quality of the league masks the dearth of English players. (I don’t care, by the way. It’s just an observation.)

      • Suppose a zero sum game:

        1) On the one hand, there is England: the most popular—and arguably most talented—domestic league, but almost mediocre national team.

        2) On the other hand, there is Brazil: an absolutely dominant national team, but a domestic league that lags far behind.

        If you could choose a fate for MLS/USMNT, would you go for Option 1 or 2? (Currently, we are obviously closer to #2.)

        Personally, I would choose #1. The national team plays infrequently, whereas the domestic league is months out of every year. I don’t feel too sorry for England.

      • England is not the most talented domestic league. EPL teams have an abundance of foreign players throughout the rosters. EPL is the best run and gun league no doubt. If you want overall speed, talent, and tactics you can look at Germany, Spain, Holland, and Italy in no specific order. Look at the players coming through the USMNT system in the past and present. Many have gone through Germany and Holland alone. Too many recent and present players are suffering not even playing in the EPL. Bradley got ditched in England and blossomed in Italy. Jozy blossomed in Holland only to throw it away for a dysfunctional team in England. EPL is good for a finished USA product. A majority of talented USA players do VERY well in continental European leagues and ‘finish’ player development and prosper…at that point is a good time for a yank to collect a big check (and avoid bottom feeder teams) in the EPL. Young yanks stay away from England.

      • Disagree with your list. Spain, Italy, Germany, England truly are the top leagues in terms of talent, skill, and speed. Most of them also have serious distributional issues though, it must be said.

      • MikeG: I wrote that “England has arguably the most talented domestic league.” Thank you for proving my point by arguing.

        I respect that you can have a difference of opinion. Your argument, however, is counterproductive. You cited great players languishing on EPL benches? That’s a sign of the abundance of talent in the EPL—which was my point.

        Further, yes, we can look at the other leagues you mention and what we’ll find is 2, maybe 3, dominant clubs that contain nearly all the talent of the league. By the time you get to mid-table, it’s not even fun anymore.

        Lastly, you wrote “EPL teams have an abundance of foreign players throughout the rosters.” Exactly. That’s quite entertaining: attracting superstars from all around the world. Why wouldn’t MLS want that? Why wouldn’t US soccer fans want that—even at the expense of the USMNT? That was my point.

        So, even though you disagree about the talent ranking of the EPL, your comment nevertheless supported my point. đŸ™‚

    • I think the biggest problem with the EPL is that they’d rather buy it than build it. Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are the only major EPL team that still shows an interest in developing their own young players instead of buying someone else’s superstar for thirty or fifty million euros…and even Arsenal have had to resort to buying lately just because they’ve had so many of the player they developed bought out from under them by everyone else.

      That’s the problem with developing in such an unforgiving league. If you develop a young player, you’re going to take your lumps with him as he learns…and then once he’s learned, somebody is going to swoop in and buy him.

      It’s HARD to develop a young player alongside a 50-million-pound Argentine…you see a very few, like Rahim Sterling, who are talented enough to get PT even as they’re learning, for the most part their talented youngsters either stay glued to the bench and can’t get PT, and they just take the money, and the very fortunate ones get themselves loaned out to lower clubs and do their developing there.

      You also tend to see players getting monster paychecks before they’re really ready – Andy Carroll is a very good example. Liverpool blew 35 million pounds getting him from Newcastle, and paid him huge money in the process…how do you then tell Carroll – who was a petulant young diva already who had to live with his team captain at Newcastle to keep him away from the pubs and out of trouble – that he’s NOT arrived, still has a long way to go, and must continue to work hard and develop his game to succeed? We watched that very same phenomenon ruin Freddy Adu…in England, it happens every day to their best and brightest.

  3. How is Hart still in goal, is he really the best England has?.
    That feeble keeper does not appear to inspire confidence or control of the game.
    Hart should have attacked the cross Super Mario scored on.
    30 plus yards to gauge it, and it’s inside the 6, you grab it, or knock it with the Ali fist jab.

    • The English used to have an excess of top keepers.

      Not any more. They’d be better off with either Guzan or Nicky.

      I don’t think it’s too much of stretch to say there are a number of teams in this World Cup who could use either Brad or Nicky.

  4. England were never going to win this. They actually looked a little better than I expected, but Italy was in control of this one.

    I also love that english fans are even more delusional about their team that US fans are about ours.

    • Didn’t think England looked bad at all. Not so sure many USA supporters are too delusional about our chances in this group!

      • yeah but they talk crap about how they’ve wasted their golden opportunity to win as is England’s rightful destiny as the inventors of football.

      • Agreed. I just got back from England. Everyone I talked soccer with had little to no hope for their team.

      • Also agree with this. I listen to talksport a good bit and the general tone amongst England fans is that they have little chance of advancing and looking to give the younger players experience.

      • Thats what they say upfront, but then if you get them going, they will say, “but you know, with a few good bounces, we could get all the way to the semi’s.”

        And I get that I am lumping a whole nation together based on 2 conversations of mine and a lot of soccer pod casts, but i noticed enough of it to justify posting.

      • Every mediocre-above mediocre team fans say that. Ive seen a lot of US fans talk about semis if we get out of the group.

  5. I thought England counter attacked fairly decently. They looked like they had no real solution for the final third when they had possession. Gerrard should be playing as a #10 no doubt about that.

  6. What a terrible game.

    LIke Cairo, above, stated Italy is a great team abut they can be painful to watch.

    England has it all on paper and then…game time comes around…and they stink.

    All in all, the game was nothing what I hoped for.

  7. After a ton of fun matches to watch, that was kind of a dull game. As always, Italy is good and boring at the same time. I greatly respect them, but i don’t enjoy watching them. England is a bit more enaging, but have little creativity (big shock there..). I think this group could actually end up italy, costa rica, Uruguay and england. The unbelievable seems possible after today…

    • Italy is not boring when you compete in a tournament. They do not play the English game at 100 mph and sacrifice tactics and support off the ball.

    • Watching England find new ways to blow it is never dull. I’m so sick of their smug we invented football condescension to Americans, when they’re utter rubbish.

    • It sounds like you did not watch the game because England created lots of chances. I really enjoyed the game, thought it was exciting

    • Not really sure what the English plan was. They essentially attacked with 4 for most of the game – Sturridge, Welbeck, Rooney, and Sterling, and they were all very good, they just had zero support – and the remaining six field guys sort of milled around doing nothing in particular. The CB’s were decent for the most part, up until Cahill got caught ball-watching and let Balotelli peel off his shoulder for the header.

      Gerrard was, in the English term, “dire”. He didn’t stay connected to the front four, didn’t shield his backline, didn’t hit his set pieces well…and if anybody was watching, he either cramped or got some sort of knock in the second half that literally left him standing immobile for a good five minutes while he sorted it out…he tried to play through it and shuffled around like a zombie from Walking Dead afterwards. Leighton Baines was getting eaten alive by that Italian right back marauding up and he had zero cover from his mids, and Gerrard – and Rooney – were the guys whose job it would have been to cover him, seemed uninterested. If Jordan Henderson was supposed to be shutting down Pirlo, he wasn’t doing that either; Pirlo was zipping his usual lasers in all night and had time to smoke a cigarette if he’d cared to before delivering it.

      Glen Johnson could have been a big factor, but wasn’t…he had room and space, he just didn’t seem to care…he’d either dribble in and put in a somewhat erratic shot from distance with his left or a bad cross from the right, and like a lot of the English old guard, he didn’t seem particularly interested in harassing, laying out, or winning 50/50 balls. Actually that seemed to be a general theme – the new guys were flying around, but just didn’t quite have the skill, the old guard just didn’t seem to really give a crap, or maybe just didn’t have the energy to care. BIG disconnect between the frisky youngsters on the squad and the grizzled oldsters, none of whom seemed overly concerned they were losing.

      Once Sturridge and Welbeck went out, it was pretty much left to Rahim Sterling to generate offense on his lonesome, because it wasn’t coming from anywhere else. Rooney missed that wide-open shot in the 62nd…and after that, England really didn’t generate much and pretty much sleepwalked through the last thirty minutes, and Italy was perfectly content to park the bus and just kick it down the field.

      Italy wasn’t even that good. England was just plain poor, and Costa Rica is going to humiliate them if they don’t wake up. England had durn well better beat Uruguay or they’re not making it out of group.

      • Good analysis.

        While their young players and new found focus on attack is encouraging England has the same problem they always have had, no one seems to be in charge, no one seems to be leading them.

        Pirlo was always there for Italy., the way Gerrard is for Liverpool but, based on last night, not for England.

        So who leads England ? Gerrard? Rooney ? or is it Henderson?

        Last night it did not look like anyone.

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