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Italy take the three points as England take heart

AS AS 15/06/2014 Guillem Balagué

Italy won the meeting of the historic international names, but there were (almost) no losers in a match dominated by the humidity: the Azzurri took the three points, while England went away with the confidence that they can compete at this level, something that an inexperienced side had yet to prove.

The speed of the attackers, supported by a defensive structure of six men behind the ball, gave England every chance as they played ‘a la Liverpool’ (five of Brendan Rodgers’ side started for the Three Lions) and with Wayne Rooney exerting less influence on the left. The counter-attacks of some and control of others was mixed with shots from distance; both teams looked to test either Joe Hart’s inconsistency or Salvatore Sirigu’s international inexperience.

Mario Balotelli heads the winner past England goalkeeper Joe Hart. © EFE Mario Balotelli heads the winner past England goalkeeper Joe Hart.

However, in the Amazonian setting of Manaus, it soon became evident that this was no ordinary match, played in unnecessarily demanding conditions: with 20 minutes gone, the players were already beginning to be selective about the runs they made.

But two moments of clinical finishing saw the game surge in excitement. First, an Italian corner ended up with Claudio Marchisio on his own outside the area. England produced an immediate reaction, a sign that the fear that has gripped them for decades is not there. The freshness of Raheem Sterling, who played at number 10 – not his usual position at Liverpool – had something, a lot, to do with that. His pass to Rooney on the left for Daniel Sturridge’s goal (fantastically finished on the bounce) was among the match’s most exquisite moments.

That goal left the late-arriving Gabriel Paletta and Matteo Darmian exposed, and saw England physio Gary Lewin dislocate an ankle in the celebrations.

England paid the price for their attacking attitude as Italy got their second goal: Leighton Baines could not get to Antonio Candreva on the right and his cross was headed in by Mario Balotelli, finally a striker of greater effectiveness than histrionics. The exchange of blows continued until the final whistle.

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