World Cup - Balotelli condemns England to opening defeat

World Cup Group D, Manaus - England 1 (Sturridge 37), Italy 2 (Marchisio 35, Balotelli 50)

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World Cup - Balotelli condemns England to opening defeat
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Mario Balotelli celebrates scoring against England (Reuters)

Mario Balotelli headed the winner as England made a losing start at the World Cup, going down 2-1 to Italy in Manaus.

The striker pounced on Antonio Candreva's back-post cross early in the second half and directed the ball past Joe Hart to leave England with a tough task to qualify from Group D.

Daniel Sturridge had earlier converted to cancel out Claudio Marchisio's strike in an open, entertaining encounter.

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Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck showed signs of imagination and flair, but Wayne Rooney disappointed for Roy Hodgson's side.

Eventually England's familiar failings put paid to hopes of a comeback, and their failure to hold possession allowed the Italians to control the game and see out a vital win.

England face Uruguay, shocked 3-1 by Costa Rica, on Thursday - the losing team will almost certainly exit the World Cup.

 KEY MOMENTS

PRE-MATCH: Sterling starts, but no Buffon for Italy. Roy Hodgson opts for the dynamic youth of Raheem Sterling who joins four of his Liverpool teammates in the starting XI. Daniel Sturridge leads the attack with Sterling, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney in support. Jordan Henderson joins Steven Gerrard at the heart of the midfield. As for Italy, they were dealt a blow on the eve of the match with the news that Gianluigi Buffon was ruled out with an ankle injury. Salvatore Sirigu of Paris St Germain deputises. Ex-Man City striker, Mario Balotelli leads the line.

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4' - ENGLAND CHANCE! SO CLOSE! Sterling almost has a dream start as he lashes a 25-yard effort into the near post side netting. From one angle that looked in!

24 - ENGLAND CHANCE! Welbeck rampages down the right and into the area before cutting the ball back towards Sturridge, but a last-gasp Italian boot manages to put it out for a corner. From the resulting kick, the delivery is missed by everyone except Rooney at the far post, but he can't dig out the shot.

35' - GOAL! England 0-1 Italy. A short corner catches England napping. It's worked to Marchisio via a sublime dummy from Pirlo and he makes no mistake with a thunderous low shot into the far corner.

37' - GOAL! England 1-1 Italy . GOOOOOOAL! England are level!!!!!!! It's a wonderful counter attack. Sterling feeds Rooney on the left and he wastes no time clipping a lovely ball to the back post for Sturridge to slam it home.

39' - INJURY.. on the bench?! England physio Gary Lewin was injured in the celebrations following the goal and looks to have broken his leg! What a crazy couple of minutes.

45+2 - ITALY CHANCE! OFF THE LINE! Balotelli breaks the offside trap and lobs Hart with a lovely effort that Jagielka manages to head off the line.

45+3' - OFF THE POST! Italy end the half in total control and are a whisker away from taking the lead again. Marchisio chips a pass to Candreva in acres of space on the left of the area. The midfielder cuts in and smashes a low shot against the near post.

49' - ENGLAND CHANCE! Sturridge was almost dancing again there as he cuts past Daniele De Rossi on the right and cracks a shot at goal that the keeper has to push around the post.

50' - GOAL! England 1-2 Italy. The Azzurri regain the lead! England suffer more trouble down the right and when the cross came in, Balotelli - who else - was there to nod home at the far post.

62' - ENGLAND CHANCE! ROONEY shoots... wide! Baines manages to flick it through to the forward on the left of the area and he cuts inside before dragging his shot back to the near post - but inches wide of it. Hands in head time. That was a big chance!

90' - OFF THE BAR! Pirlo almost seals the win with a free kick in injury time that smacked the bar. Hart was left rooted to the spot there.

TALKING POINT: Can England still qualify? The Three Lions are now up against it and will face Uruguay next, knowing that a defeat could well see them head home early. Costa Rica's shock win over the South Americans has taken everyone by surprise, but there were enough positives on show in the form of England's youth to suggest they could still emerge from the pool.

MATCHCAST: FULL COMMENTARY AND PLAYER RATINGS

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KEY STATS

Daniel Sturridge has scored three goals in his last four England appearances.

Since their World Cup victory in 1966, only two English players wearing the number nine shirt have scored WC goals: Shearer (1998), Sturridge (2014).

Italy have now scored in each of their last 15 games at the World Cup, the longest current run. The last time they failed to score was on 3 July 1998 against France.

England have lost their opening World Cup game for the first time since 1986.

Prior to tonight, Italy's last header at the World Cup had been scored by Materazzi in the 2006 Final.

Wayne Rooney contributed to his first England World Cup goal, in his ninth appearance.

England have only ever come from behind to win two World Cup games (the 1966 final & 1990 versus Cameroon).

England have only won two of their last 12 games against Italy.

(Stats courtesy of Opta)

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MAN OF THE MATCH

Raheem Sterling (England): The Liverpool winger vindicated Hodgson's decision to start him with a performance full of pace and threat. A role in Sturridge's equaliser, an early shot that flew inches wide and a flurry of rampaging runs suggest he could play a big role in England's campaign.

PLAYER RATINGS -

England: Hart 6, Johnson 6, Cahill 6, Jagielka 7, Baines 5, Gerrard 6, Henderson 6, Rooney 6, Sterling 8, Welbeck 6, Sturridge 7. Subs: Barkley 7, Wilshere 6, Lallana 6.

Italy: Sirigu 6, Chiellini 6, Darmian 7, Candreva 7, Marchisio 7, Balotelli 7, Barzagli 6, De Rossi 6, Paletta 6, Pirlo 6, Verratti 5. Subs: Motta 6, Immobile 6, Parolo 6.

MATCH IN A TWEET

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