ENGLAND 1, ITALY 2 (WORLD CUP GROUP D)
ROY HODGSON GIVES YOUTH A CHANCE BUT ENGLAND ARE OUTFLANKED
Former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli scored the decisive goal that won the game 2-1 for Italy after England were indeed guilty of spending too much time worrying about Andrea Pirlo to see Antonio Candreva exploiting space down England’s left flank.
England manager Roy Hodgson opted for youth and selected a front line containing Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck.
The Italian defence was already shorn of two veterans. Salvatore Sirigu replaced injured Gianluigi Buffon in goal after he twisted his left ankle in training and Giorgio Chiellini had to move to left back to replace Mattia De Sciglio (calf strain) with Gabriel Paletta stepping in to central defence. Riccardo Montolivo was ruled out before the World Cup with a broken leg.
Both sides had tested the water with long range shots, England moreso with Sterlng rippling the side netting early on and Jordan Henderson forcing Sirigu to make a save. Danny Welbeck could also have opened the scoring for England if he had reacted quicker to Sterling’s run and tempting cross which rolled across the six yard box.
Unfortunately for England, Italy exploited the spaces they found emerging in England’s full back areas to give England a bloody nose towards the end of the first half.
A nicely worked corner routine saw Andrea Pirlo neatly step over the ball and allow it to pass through to Claudio Marchisio whose threaded daisy cutter strike flew through the legs of Rooney and Cahill to beat an unsighted Joe Hart after 35 minutes.
The Italians were ahead for less than 90 seconds when England levelled the scores. Wayne Rooney collected a quick ball from Raheem Sterling and raced up the left flank with his cross finding Daniel Sturridge to score his third goal in four England appearances.
Rooney hadn’t enjoyed his workload down the left flank but was there when it mattered, however Leighton Baines wasn’t offered much protection during the first half with Antonio Candreva forcing Baines to follow him eventually allowing space for marauding runs by Matteo Darmian from left back.
While this appeared to have been fixed by half time, there was still time for Mario Balotelli to have a chip headed off the line by Phil Jagielka while Candreva shot hit the post after a set piece.
England had tried to solve their left flank problems during the break but it didn’t work and five minutes after the restart Balotelli found space behind Gary Cahill and converted Antonio Candreva’s cross after Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines both went missing.
The second half was predictably punishing as a clutch of England players went down with cramp despite drinks breaks.
England tried to level the scores and Rooney passed up two good chances to level the game but it was Italy, and Pirlo, who had the final word as he effortlessly put an injury time free kick onto the bar with Hart stranded to underline the Italian win.
FIVE THINGS TO NOTE FROM ENGLAND VS ITALY IN MANAUS
ATTACKING LINEUP BUT ROONEY SACRIFICED
We’ve already seen at this World Cup that pace creates chances and Raheem Sterling was never going to get closed down by Andrea Pirlo when England was on the front foot. Although England were much improved from their limp exit to the Italians at Euro 2012 they just didn’t manage to create enough chances to get ahead in 2014 and wasted most of the presentable chances when they came with Welbeck in particular too slow to get on the end of an early Sterling cross.
An early leak of the England team turned out to be accurate with later confirmation that Wayne Rooney would be stationed wide on the left and Raheem Sterling would be playing off his Liverpool team mate Daniel Sturridge with Danny Welbeck playing wide on the right.
There was also a lack of protection for Baines who hand his hands full looking after Candreva and Darmian, Rooney wasn’t happy with the situation and England’s tactical outlook was changed for the second half.
Rooney did get involved in a lot of attacking work and got into central positions where possible but there was a lack of quality when chances did arrive in particular with a pair of chances arriving in the second half when put through by Baines in the 62nd minute and a chance he created himself earlier in the 54th minute.
Is Rooney’s place in the side in danger if Sterling is the best man for the number 10 role?
ENGLAND NEED TO WORK ON DEFENSIVE SET PIECES
As well as the goal, England could have conceded in added time at the end of the first half. Phil Jagielka cleared a goal bound chip off the line after Mario Balotelli had drawn his former Man City team mate Joe Hart out of his six yard box only to improvise what would have been a stunning goal if Jagielka hadn’t been alert.
Similarly, Antonio Candreva hit the post seconds later after England failed to deal with another set piece from Italy.
Danny Welbeck was moved over to the left flank to deal with the threat with Rooney repositioned to the right flank as Sterling kept his central role.
When chasing the game, removing the hard working Danny Welbeck for the even more forward minded Ross Barkley didn’t nullify the Italian threat.
FULL BACKS EXPOSED
Glen Johnson was drawn out of position and Leighton Baines was beaten by Candreva whose resulting cross moved in the air and allowed Balotelli to get the better of Gary Cahill and head Italy back into the lead. Playing like Liverpool allows attacking talent to get into good positions in attack but also leaves exploitable gaps which Italy ruthlessly exposed.
Johnson could also have conceded an early penalty although it woud have been a harsh award had the Dutch referee opted to penalise him when the ball struck his arm which was tucked against his body.
For all the talk about Andrea Pirlo causing havoc against England it turned out to be Antonio Candreva who was Italy’s danger man. Candreva was given free reign to hassle Leighton Baines while Glen Johnson was positionally suspect for Mario Balotelli’s winner.
Mario Balotelli could have scored in the first half with a deft chip but he chose a simpler header from Antonio Candreva’s cross to put Italy into the lead early in the second half. England didn’t trouble him at all but perhaps they should have hassled him some more and they had their chances to score but were nowhere near as lethal as Balotelli.
Physio Gary Lewin was stretchered off after seemingly dislocating his ankle while celebrating England’s equaliser in the first half.