By ARMEN BEDAKIAN
The goals continued to rain in the 2014 FIFA World Cup as Italy defeated England 2-1 to secure all three points in Group D. Earlier in the day, Costa Rica shocked Uruguay with a 3-1 win and still sits atop the group, but a Mario Balotelli header goal gave Italy a much-needed win over a tough England side.
Italy kicked off the scoring in the first half, slowly but steadily building up on the offense. A passed-in corner went back towards Andrea Pirlo, who eluded his man and let the ball roll through his legs onto an open Claudio Marchisio. The Juventus midfielder took a shot into the box – which was filled with players on both teams – and beat 'keeper Joe Hart to give Italy the lead.
It was a goal right out of the training ground, a well-rehearsed play giving the Italians a lead just a few minutes after the half-hour mark. However, moments later, England retaliated, Wayne Rooney bursting down the left wing on the counter attack before swinging in a well-placed curling cross onto Daniel Sturridge. The Liverpool forward made no mistake, connecting on the ball and slotting home past the Italian goalkeeper to level the match at 1-1.
Tied at half time, the Italians were content to sit on the defensive end in the second half and struck England when they least expected it, Mario Balotelli getting a head on the end of a cross, beating Hart to give England the 2-1 lead.
Try as England might to find yet another equalizer, the Three Lions faltered and Italy absorbed their offensive pressure with relative ease. England came close to finding an equalizer when Rooney beat the offside trap in the box but his shot was placed wide of the post. Italy nearly added a third late in the game when Pirlo struck a free kick and hit the crossbar, to Hart's surprise.
England put up quite a resilient effort in the final 20 minutes of the game, with lots of pressure coming from the right-hand side, but despite their efforts, Steven Gerrard and the rest of England's young lineup couldn't break down the Italian defense.
"Italy are a good team. We knew how they were going to play and they didn't surprise us," Gerrard said after the match. "We got criticized three years ago for sitting back but I think anyone who watched today saw that we tried to create, we pushed and pushed, and we were unlucky to get nothing out of it."
England next take on Uruguay on June 19 at the Arena Corinthians, while Italy and Costa Rica face off for the first place spot in Group D on June 20 at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife.
Where does England go from here?