So this Group of Death encounter was a subject to a lot of anticipation and excitement, understandably. It was all about Italy looking to make amends after their dismal performance in South Africa and England out there trying to prove a point. If anything else, Costa Rica’s dismantling of Uruguay would have put both teams on edge.
It was a seemingly familiar tale for the Three Lions who fell short once again as Italy claimed the 3 points in a 2-1 victory.
The game started at a controlled pace and Italy expectedly dominated possession. But the first chance fell to Raheem Sterling whose shot was narrowly wide and later to Jordan Henderson, whose effort was saved by stand in goalie Salvatore Sirigu who deputized for Gigi Buffon, who suffered a training injury. But as the game went on, there was nothing between the two sides; Italy controlled the game while England controlled the chances. Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck had great halves while for Italy it was Marco Veratti and Antonio Candreva who seemed to make the most impact. The PSG midfielder pulled the strings through midfield and allowed Candreva to run havoc on the right wing, to no avail though. Then came Italy’s first corner of the match and the England centre backs prepared. But what happened next bamboozled all of us. Italy played the corner short, and a brilliant dummy from Andrea Pirlo left it for Claudio Marchisio to bury into the corner and he took it superbly. Italy took the lead and it seemed a similar story for England…
But this was a new England, an England team that had left no stone unturned while preparing for the World Cup and within under 3 minutes, they were level through Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge. Some beautiful football by Sterling as he found Rooney between two defenders, and Rooney provided a great ball, and England exploited the gaps with some lightening pace, for Sturridge to bury it into the back of the net. Sturridge did not disappoint on a day of wacky celebrations and gave us his trademark Sturridge goal celebration dance.
That goal changed Roy Hodgson and Cesare Prandelli’s team talks entirely. The half was not over yet, as Italy almost scored 2 goals. A moment of genius by Mario Balotelli, when he received the ball, took it away from Hart and lobbed it over, only for Jagielka to save England from the line. Soon after, Candreva almost made it two for Italy, after he beat Joe Hart but not the woodwork. If Italy wanted to improve they had to had to bring Andrea Pirlo and Super Mario into the game and if England wanted to win, the only option for them was to make sure Rooney does what he is supposed to do, attack; and not play as back-up to Leighton Baines as he had throughout the half.
In the second half, Hodgson put Rooney central but still no avail as the Manchester United man had a rare shocker of a game. As roars of Italia Italia echoed throughout Manaus, it was the Azzuri who took the lead 5 minutes into the game. Mario Balotelli made the game his own after his head found the end of an Antonio Candreva cross. We don’t know where Leighton Baines was and we don’t know know what Gary Cahill was doing as Super Mario beat him effortlessly to score what would eventually be the winner. Italy now, were in full control. England and Italy both made their changes but there was nothing for England to offer as they came up short in the final third (validated by Gerrard in his post match interview), they lacked a cutting edge, something similar to what Manchester United lacked throughout this season. OptaJoe tells us that England have lost their opening World Cup game for the first time since 1986 and Italy have scored in every of their last 15 WC-matches. That is both an Italian record and the longest current run in World Cup.
Wayne Rooney had a shocker of a game, although he gave an assist and was defending for larger parts of the game. He missed a simple opportunity from 10 yards out and seemed very out of sorts everytime he was on the ball. A night to forget for the highest paid player in the Premier League. That being said, let us not take anything away from Italy’s defensive performance. Darmian and Chiellini hardly put a foot wrong and that is eventually what made the difference. There was not much more that happened in the half, unless you refer to Wayne Rooney’s shocker of a corner or Pirlo’s beautiful Juninho-esque free kick which rattled the crossbar. Unlucky. Eventually, the major reasons as to why England came up short were simple and had been highlighted to them since a long time; they failed to stop Pirlo from influencing the game and they had a very crowded midfield with 3-4 players playing the number 10 position. If you try to accommodate Rooney, Sterling, Lallana and Barkley, get ready for disappointment. Moreover, Baines seemed lost while he defended and was very flat while attacking, maybe the enormity of the situation got to him. England can take one positive from the game – England’s pass completion of 91% tonight was the highest they’ve ever recorded in a World Cup game (1966-2014). Progress.
Italy need to do more of the same and make sure Candreva is involved along with Mario Balotelli. Roy Hodgson needs to sort out his #10 conundrum if he wants the Three Lions to excel this year. Rooney should not be playing on the left. If there is no other position for him, he may as well be dropped for an out and out winger. Liverpool fans can be happy with Sterling’s performance and if not this World Cup, expect great things from England in the next. The future looks bright, but the present looks bleak.
FIFA Man Of The Match – Mario Balotelli. He had a brilliant game when he scored the winner in the toughest match of Group D. He could’ve had two to his name if not for Phil Jagielka’s heroics. We understand the impact he had on the game, and why FIFA awarded it to him.
Our Man Of The Match – Andrea Pirlo. The Azzuri captain had a brilliant display and we feel that he pulled the necessary strings for Italy to function as a unified unit. His control over the midfield along with Marchisio made Gerrard and Henderson look like little babies. Although Balotelli did get the goal, without Pirlo’s passing and running, Gerrard would’ve ran riot as he has done all season with Liverpool. Pirlo was part of the first goal too, when he played a dummy for Marchisio and almost got himself on the scoresheet with a superb curling free-kick which hit crossbar. More of the same from him and Italy will top the group.
Flop Of The Match – Wayne Rooney. He had absolute shocker of a game. Played out of position, doing defensive work for most of the game, we saw not the Manchester United Rooney, but the so familiar England Wayne Rooney. He missed a sitter from 10 yards out, he didn’t seem to know where he was playing and didn’t have control over the game. He was given super competition for this by Leighton Baines, but his shocker of a corner just summed up his evening. Roy Hodgson may as well drop him if he’s not going to operate Rooney in the hole.