MANAUS – A cool-headed Italy proved too clever for England on Saturday, scoring two well-crafted goals and defending doggedly in the Amazon heat to grab a 2-1 win in their opening World Cup Group D game.
Italy grabbed the winner in the 50th minute when midfielder Antonio Candreva outfoxed England left back Leighton Baines and chipped a cross deep into the area for Mario Balotelli to head in from close range at the far post. England otherwise dominated the second half but could not find a way past back-up keeper Salvatore Sirigu, deputising for the injured Gianluigi Buffon.
Italy are joint top of the group with Costa Rica while England must beat Uruguay in their next game to retain realistic hopes of reaching the last 16. The result was fair and reflected well on both teams, who did not shirk in high humidity and temperatures that were still 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) at kickoff. "We played well. It was a hard fought victory but we kept control of the midfield," Italian manager Cesare Prandelli told reporters.
The Italians started with five men in midfield in a bid to clamp down on fleet-footed English forwards Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck. England began well but some players, including Wayne Rooney and Baines, had games to forget. Baines often looked out of his depth with Italy regularly mounting dangerous raids down their right flank and Prandelli`s team took the lead in the 35th minute after a cleverly worked corner.
When the ball was played into Andrea Pirlo the veteran midfielder let it run under his boot and Claudio Marchisio had time to hammer home a 25-metre right-foot shot. "They caused us a lot of problems down our left-hand side in the first half but we made tweaks at half-time and dealt with it better," England captain Steven Gerrard said.