The second FIFA World Cup matchup for Group D was a completely different showing than the first, with England and Italy giving controlled performances with quick, calculated attacks on goal. Ultimately Italy came out on top, as their slow, steady pace gave them the win and the second place spot in Group D behind Costa Rica for the 2014 World Cup.
Both teams came out of the gate strong, though Italy settled into a more paced style of play, with slow, controlled passes in the middle. England preferred quick, accurate passes up front to work their way into the box. The speed of England’s younger class seemed to confuse the Italians, who had no answer for the likes of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge early on in the game.
The Italian strategy worked first, though, when Claudio Marchisio caught a pass and buried it in the lower left corner from 20 yards in the 34th minute. Italy did not have long to celebrate, as three minutes later Sturridge equalized on a perfect back post cross from Wayne Rooney. The two teams headed to the locker rooms for half time with a goal each.
The second half showed the superiority of the Italians’ play, as they were able to continue their slow, steady pace, while England began to show fatigue before conceding another goal and eventually the win. Andrea Pirlo was once again Italy’s World Cup maestro, and Mario Balotelli played the gong, crashing it spectacularly in the 49th minute. Antonio Candreva sent a cross to the back post right to Balotelli, who headed it into the net in a mirror image of England’s first half goal. “Mad Mario” claimed his 13th goal in 31 caps for the Italian side before heading to the bench in favor of spitfire Ciro Immobile.
England continued to attack, but their passes and crosses became more erratic as time ticked by. Jack Wilshere came in for Jordan Henderson as the Three Lions pushed forward, desperate to snatch another equalizing goal from Italy. There could not have been a better chance than Rooney with the ball at his feet, 15 yards from the goal line, but the striker’s dry spell continued when he put the ball just wide of the near post.
A senseless foul by Daniele De Rossi on Adam Lallana gave England another shot from close range, but Steven Gerrard’s free kick flew over the cross bar. Italy nearly scored again and widened the gap as the game approached 90 minutes, but Gary Cahill saved his team with a spectacular slide to knock the ball out of bounds. Sterling was shown a warning in the 91st minute, and England was unable to convert in the remaining four minutes of stoppage time, ending the game with a 2-1 score in favor of the Italians.
Though England tired out toward the end and lost some control and focus, the second game of the day for Group D was far better than the first in terms of possession and attacking. England’s younger, faster style worked well early on, but they could not keep it up for the full 90 minutes in the heavy Brazilian heat. Italy’s slow, methodical play and steady control throughout the game earned them the win and, if they hold off Uruguay and Costa Rica, could give them the top advancing spot in Group D for the 2014 World Cup.
Commentary by Christina Jones