by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 14th 2014)
AC Milanʼs Mario Balotelli headed Cesare Prandelliʼs Azzurri to victory over England in Manaus despite an impressive performance by Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling. Daniel Sturridge feel for an excellent dummy by Italyʼs creative maestro Andrea Pirlo for Claudio Marchisio to score from inside the area. Sturridge recovered well as England responded immediately with the equaliser.
Balotelli has had his critics – plenty of them. There were calls for him not to be selected, especially after Prandelli imposed a behaviour code – he seems to have taken the line of pragmatic expediency over the moral principles he espoused over both Balotelli and Giorgio Chiellini, but both were crucial players, especially now. Gianluigi Buffon was injured and Ricardo Montolivo was ruled out of the World Cup after breaking a leg in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland.
Balotelliʼs talent is unquestioned – his attitude is a different matter. Apart from scoring the goal that condemned England to a crunch match against Uruguay – both of whom lost their opening match – Balotelli almost embarrassed former team mate Joe Hart. He attempted an audacious chip from a tight angle on the left with Hart stranded. Only a fantastic goal-line clearance by Phil Jagielka saved England from going in at half-time a goal behind.
Paris Saint-Germainʼs Salvatore Sirigu, deputising for Buffon, was relieved to see Sterlingʼs 6th minute effort hit the side netting. Liverpoolʼs winger was at the heart of Englandʼs best work, playing in his preferred position with Wayne Rooney out on the left. He left his defensive duties of helping out Leighton Baines – it almost cost his team as Antonio Candreva exploited the extra space t unleash a long-range effort that was parried by Hart.
Although clear chances had been at a premium for the Azzurri, they opened the scoring after Pirloʼs sublime dummy from a corner teed up Marchisio. England had efforts by Jordan Henderson and Sturridge test the Italian defence if not Sirigu. There were plenty of near things without actual shots as crosses tantalisingly eluded Danny Welbeck and also Sturridge. The equaliser showed how to break the Italian defence as England controlled the flanks.
Rooney had a very disappointing effort before capitalising on excellent work by Sterling to win possession and find him on the left wing. Rooneyʼs cross was converted by Sturridge. Englandʼs physiotherapist Gary Lewin was injured during the exuberant celebrations. His ankle was dislocated and he was stretchered off the pitch at Manaus.
Five minutes into the second half Candrevaʼs cross was headed in by Balotelli. Meanwhile, Sterling caused problems for Chiellini while Candreva exploited the space afforded him on the right flank. In injury time Pirlo showed just why he is so highly rated. Thiago Motta was brought down by Cahill. Pirloʼs free-kick seemed to defy the laws of science as Hart moved to his left only to see the ball swerve to his right. The crossbar saved his blushes, but England were beaten. With Uruguay crashing to their first ever defeat to Costa Rica both teams face a must-win match in the next round of matches in group D.