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Jun 14, 2014

Italy's Balotelli nets winner vs. England

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2014 FIFA World Cup Group D: England 1-2 Italy

England put on a thrilling display of attacking football but emerged from the jungle city of Manaus with only a 2-1 defeat to Italy to show for it thanks to Mario Balotelli's winner.

- Brewin: Experience shows as Italy beat England

Balotelli scored the decisive goal for the Azzurri five minutes into the second half after the first period had seen Daniel Sturridge cancel out a Claudio Marchisio effort.

At times, England were breathtaking on the attack. Raheem Sterling, making his third England start, wowed the crowd at the Arena Amazonia with his quick thinking and even quicker feet.

Sterling, Danny Welbeck and Jordan Henderson all went close in the first half as a bold and bright England went for Italy from the first whistle.

Roy Hodgson's men also had two good penalty shouts turned down and their passing, until the last 10 minutes, was fluent.

But defensive shortcomings cost them again. Marchisio was left unmarked and took full advantage by driving Italy ahead from outside the box.

And Gary Cahill lost Balotelli at the back post as the striker put Italy ahead for a second time after Sturridge had equalised following a brilliant England counter-attack.

Wayne Rooney's critics also gained further ammunition after the Manchester United striker missed two good chances.

But it is in defence where the Three Lions have to sharpen up fast -- particularly with Luis Suarez poised to face them in in Sao Paulo on Thursday.

The atmosphere was electric at kick-off, and after only two minutes Sterling -- praised by Hodgson for his "breathtaking'' performances in training this week -- left the 2,500 England fans inside the stadium gasping for air.

He picked the ball up 40 yards out and took 10 paces forward before blasting a right-footed shot which whizzed beyond the flying Salvatore Sirigu, standing in for injured Gianluigi Buffon, but rippled the side-netting.

England's explosive start continued when Henderson unleashed a low shot that Sirigu scrambled across his line to save. More was to come as Welbeck let fly with a low drive that flew inches wide.

It was a dynamic opening in keeping with the thrilling start to the World Cup as a whole. The Italians were struggling to keep pace with England's attack, but they did pierce the Three Lions' box on a couple of occasions.

Andrea Pirlo thought he should have had a penalty when his chip clipped Glen Johnson's arm, and England had their own call for a spot-kick turned down a few minutes later when Andrea Barzagli and Gabriel Paletta blocked Welbeck's path inside the box.

But England's good work went down the drain when they left Marchisio unmarked on the edge of the box. Pirlo dummied Marco Verratti's corner and his Juventus team-mate drove past three England defenders and into Joe Hart's net.

Just two minutes and 43 seconds later, England coach Hodgson was on his feet celebrating Sturridge's equaliser.

Sterling was the architect of the move, cutting Italy's defence open with a 40-yard pass to Rooney. He looked up and found Sturridge with a lovely cross which the Liverpool man stabbed home on the half-volley.

But the England bench celebrated a little too hard, and physio Gary Lewin had to be carried off on a stretcher with a dislocated ankle.

England endured a couple of nervy moments before half-time as Phil Jagielka cleared Balotelli's chip off the line and Antonio Candreva hit a post, but Hodgson's men clung on and started the second period as they had the first, with Sturridge forcing a save from Sirigu.

Once again, though, slack marking allowed Italy to re-take the lead. Leighton Baines was outsmarted -- not for the first time -- by Candreva, who turned and crossed for Balotelli, who had gained a yard on Cahill, and the former Manchester City striker guided the ball past Hart.

Referee Bjorn Kuipers then turned down two good England penalty shouts. First Chiellini swept Welbeck's legs from beneath him, and then Paletta knocked Gerrard over, but the referee waved play on.

Hodgson brought on Ross Barkley and, within two minutes, he had stung Sirigu's palms. Rooney had a better chance, latching on to a Baines pass, but shot wide.

Sirigu tipped Baines' free-kick around the post and Rooney wasted the corner that followed by slicing the ball behind the goal.

Hodgson brought on Jack Wilshere and then Adam Lallana, who replaced a limping Sturridge, but England's passing went awry as the heat started taking its toll on the players.

The Italians kept the ball well and the final whistle blew, sparking celebrations on the Azzurri bench.

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