Mario Balotelli and Claudio Marchisio secured Italy’s 2-1 win over England, as the Azzurri also hit the woodwork twice.
This game became even more important after Costa Rica’s shock 3-1 victory over Uruguay in Group D. The Azzurri lost Mattia De Sciglio this week and Gigi Buffon just hours before kick-off, so Andrea Pirlo wore the captain’s armband in a dual playmaker role with Marco Verratti.
Salvatore Sirigu got the gloves for only his second competitive cap, the first since September 2010, and Gabriel Paletta moved into defence as Giorgio Chiellini shifted to left-back. Roy Hodgson missed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but made a surprisingly attacking choice with both Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck, leaving Adam Lallana on the bench.
England hadn’t beaten Italy in a competitive match since 1977 and only faced them once before in a World Cup, losing 2-1 in 1990.
Sterling may only be 19, but he dived right into his World Cup debut with a screamer after three minutes that hit the side-netting. Jordan Henderson stung Sirigu’s gloves from distance, while Antonio Candreva hesitated and couldn’t get his shot away following a smart Pirlo dummy.
Welbeck also failed to make the most of a Paletta error, then Joe Hart showed uncertainty when allowing a Candreva snapshot to bounce off his chest. Mario Balotelli spun round to blast off target.
Andrea Barzagli was absolutely decisive on 23 minutes when Welbeck left Paletta for dead down the right, but the cross for what would’ve been an easy Daniel Sturridge tap-in was crucially intercepted by the Juventus man.
Balotelli should’ve done better on a Darmian pull-back, as he only glanced the header and in doing so took it away from Claudio Marchisio too.
Italy found a way through with a well-worked set piece move. A corner was played to the edge of the box where Pirlo’s dummy let it through for Marchisio, his Juventus teammate hitting a daisy-cutter into the near bottom corner past Hart.
However, it lasted only 120 seconds before England equalised with a counter-attack. They lost possession and Wayne Rooney put in a great cross from the left for Sturridge, as Paletta was again lost at sea. Oddly, England physio Gary Lewin injured his leg during the celebrations and had to be stretchered off.
Torino revelation Darmian was very impressive in his first competitive Italy appearance, surging forward to fire just off target.
In first half stoppages there were too extraordinary chances for the Azzurri to restore their lead. First Balotelli ran on to Pirlo’s through ball and drew out Hart for a lob that Phil Jagielka somehow cleared off the line, then from the corner Candreva thumped the base of the near post.
After the restart Sirigu beat away a Sturridge long-range strike, but it was Italy who restored their advantage. Candreva whipped in a wonderful cross from the right with his left foot that Balotelli nodded in at the back post. That was the first headed goal Italy have scored in a World Cup since Marco Materazzi in the 2006 Final.
England almost equalised within 60 seconds with Paletta again left behind by Sturridge, but Sirigu came to the rescue, then Rooney’s angled drive flashed across the face of goal. Steven Gerrard had timid penalty appeals, but seemed to run into Paletta.
Balotelli just failed to make contact with another dangerous cross, while Rooney didn’t make the most of springing the offside trap when his effort shaved a coat of paint off the near stick.
It was wide open and exciting in Manaus. Within 60 seconds Darmian had a shot charged down after his stunning first touch on a chipped Daniele De Rossi pass, then on the counter substitute Ross Barkley forced Sirigu into a save.
Candreva drilled wide when he perhaps should’ve sent Darmian through and Sirigu was grateful to see Johnson’s snapshot from a corner whistle past the post.
The PSG goalkeeper did well to parry a Leighton Baines free kick that had dipped over the wall, while Cahill was decisive when intercepting Ciro Immobile’s pass for an unmarked Marco Parolo.
Gerrard curled a free kick over from a dangerous position and Italy hung on during five minutes of stoppages, even forcing Sterling into a bookable offence on Parolo.
At the 93rd minute Pirlo thought he had scored a third with one of his trademark free kicks, but it dipped and swerved on to the crossbar with Hart stranded.
Immobile was one-on-one on the counter-attack and with practically the last kick of the game Cahill’s sliding tackle prevented him from netting.
England 1-2 Italy
Scorers: Marchisio 35 (I), Sturridge 37 (E), Balotelli 50 (I)
England: Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson (Wilshere 73); Rooney, Sterling, Welbeck (Barkley 61); Sturridge (Lallana 80)
Italy: Sirigu; Darmian, Barzagli, Paletta, Chiellini; De Rossi; Candreva (Parolo 80), Pirlo, Verratti (Thiago Motta 57), Marchisio; Balotelli (Immobile 73)
Ref: Kuipers (NED)