Saturday, at Arena Amazonia, Brazil, the Italian National Football Team beat their opposite from England 2-1 in the second game of Group D, placing Italy alongside Costa Rica on the group’s leader board.
In by far the best played game of the cup so far the Italian and English teams went at each other for 45 spectacular minutes that had spectators on the edge of their seats. Neither team is known for all-out attacking prowess, on the contrary, both are defensive specialists, but not tonight.
Time after time, wave after wave of English white-shirted attacks came inches away from scores only to have the Azurri counter with similarly beautiful plays. And yet, perhaps the best plays of the half did not end up being scores.
On England’s side Daniel Sturridge was in spectacular form and on two occasions he dribbled around his marker and then next defender, getting into the box and unleashing a great shot once that Italian goalkeeper, Salvatore Sirigu, just parried and in another passing back for another loss opportunity that just went begging.
On his business end Mario Balotelli had a great through pass into the box reach him and he beat Joe Hart to the ball. The English goalkeeper forced the Italian striker wide and out of the box before defensive help arrived. But before Hart could get back to his goal Balotelli lofted a perfect curler toward goal that was headed over the crossbar, almost the way the 1966 English crossbar ricochet was headed out by the German defender, for the save.
The first half ended 1-1, and it was a fair result. The actual goals occurred minutes apart. An Italian corner at the 35th minute was sent Andrea Pirlo’s way at the corner of the English box. He simply let the pass go through his legs, a perfect dummy, just as Claudio Marchisio was coming up behind and to Pirlo’s left. As he reached the ball Marchisio unleashed a 26 yard blast that exploded in the lower left side of Hart’s net. Italy 1, England 0.
Two minutes later, Wayne Rooney gets free down the left side and he sends a perfect long cross to the far side of the goal by the far post and Sturridge half volleys past a powerless Sirigu for the English score. England 1, Italy 1. A deserved draw closed the half.
The second half began with the same classy play, mostly sportsmanlike and requiring few officiating interventions. The game continued to have much back and forth action and even chances. Then, at the 50th minute, Antonio Candreva got free on the right wing and sent a perfect cross from the far right to the far left post, into a box with three English defenders and but one Italian striker.
The lone striker was Balotelli who rose to meet the accurately weighted and aimed ball. The orb seemed to float for a second as if allowing the striker to rear back and hammer forward. That he did with force and accuracy for the go-ahead score. Italy 2, England 1.
At the 90th minute, as if to add an unneeded exclamation point on the best game of the cup to date, Pirlo took a free kick to the left of the English goal, about twenty-five yards out. His shot hit the crossbar to Hart’s left. The rooted goalkeeper could only look in hope. A minute later the ref’s whistle ended the match—Italy 2, England 1.
As predicted, though certainly not foreseen in this manner, the group’s critical game will come down to England-Uruguay.