Prior to the match, England fans were busy wondering how far they could progress in the World Cup, with signs that this was a far superior squad to the one that crashed out in South Africa. However, they had arguably one of the toughest groups, and the first match for Roy Hodgson’s squad was a tie against Euro 2012 finalists Italy. From the outset the game was played at a frenetic pace and there were chances aplenty for both sides. Raheem Sterling, playing in his first World Cup finals match, caused many fans and pundits to leap out of their chairs when his shot appeared to go in, but in fact had hit the side netting. England seemed on top in the early stages, with Jordan Henderson’s shot saved by Italian keeper Sirigu. However, Italy were exposing the right hand side due to the lack of communication between Leighton Baines and Wayne Rooney, and Pirlo was a constant menace throughout the half. Italy took the lead on 35 minutes when a corner came to Claudio Marchisio just outside the box, and he took advantage of the slow closing down by England by planting a shot past a helpless Joe Hart. England though immediately responded after a good cross from Rooney found Daniel Sturridge who couldn’t miss from 5 yards out, however this led to a bizarre incident, with England physio Gary Lewin injuring himself celebrating the goal. Italy nearly scored twice at the end of the half, with ex-Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli’s looping shot going over Hart but Phil Jagielka headed off the line, whilst Antonio Candreva hit the post. The second half however started in the worst possible fashion for England, with Baines, who still lacked protection from Rooney, unable to prevent a cross reaching Balotelli, who escaped his marker to head in at the far post. Rooney was having a fairly miserable time out on the pitch with his off target shot when the goal was gaping summing up his frustrating evening . As the heat went on, both teams tired but had their opportunities; Ross Barkley’s mazy run led to a shot which Sirigu saved, whilst Pirlo’s amazing free kick from well outside the box hitting the bar with Joe Hart beaten. But Italy held on, and now England face a must-win match against Uruguay, who experienced a shock defeat to Costa Rica, to keep alive their hopes of progression.
• Raheem Sterling put in an amazing performance in this match and has certainly paid back Roy Hodgson’s faith in him with a full 90 minutes of running at the opposition, which caused problems on more than one occasion.
• The decision by Roy Hodgson to put Wayne Rooney on the left wing must surely be questioned, as apart from one good cross that led to an assist, he had a torrid match. He also did not support Leighton Baines by doing his defensive duties, which Italy took advantage of on more than one occasion. • The tactics by Roy Hodgson had a very attacking mentality, but as was shown in the pre-tournament friendlies, this could have a negative impact on the defensive capabilities of the team. The substitution choices could also be questioned, with Rooney staying on the pitch despite a poor performance, whilst Welbeck was taken off when having a good match. The decision to not put on Rickie Lambert for the injured Sturridge in the second half also meant England lacked a forward who could hold the ball up, and subs Jack Wilshere and Adam Lallana didn’t make an impact when put on. • England players should not let their heads drop following this result, as there are two games left to be played and if England keep up the intensity that they showed in this match, a win in both could be possible. However, they can’t afford to underestimate a Uruguay side that may see the return of Luis Suarez, and will probably be seething after their own defeat to Costa Rica. Italy meanwhile, have shown themselves as contenders to go deep into the tournament, with Pirlo still brilliant despite his advancing years.