the tournament finally began for
their much-hyped clash with
Italy in the
heat and humidity of Manaus.
The England skipper, Steven Gerrard, had
promised the England fans that they would be proud of his team, and
after this first game the players certainly gave their all, learned a
lot, and can go on to the next game with their heads held high.
Sadly though, against
again we just came up a little short where it mattered most.
made a bright start and in the third minute Raheem Sterling hit a
screamer from 20 yards that, at first glance, looking for all the
world, that the ball had gone in.
The lack of celebration amongst the
players told us differently though, as the ball had hit the
side-netting. But that was
announcement of his intent, and the Liverpool
player continued to shine throughout.
Danny Welbeck also put in some determined work and from one of
his bursts the ball was rolled out to Jordan Henderson and the
midfield player's shot was only just kept out by a good save from the
Salvatore Sirigu. All this
after only five minutes had gone.
had already shown that their game plan was to attack the space behind
the full-backs and with Andrea Pirlo immediately the lynchpin for
virtually all of their attacks, the
defenders had to be alert and on their guard.
In one attack Pirlo tried to dink the ball past Glen Johnson in
the box, but the Italian's shout for a handball fell on the deaf ears
of the referee. It would
have been harsh on Johnson, but they have been given before,
especially against England.
The first ten minutes had seen a very open game with both
defences stretched at times.
Johnson's dangerous cross was cut out and then a mistake by an
Italian defender gave Welbeck a free shot from the edge of the area,
which he dragged wide. Joe
Hart intercepted one cross and from the breakaway by
it took three defenders to stop the lively Daniel Sturridge.
Then on 15 minutes Johnson again sortied forward and cut inside
to hit another good shot that flew just wide.
At the other end Italy's
Candreva tried a similar shot and Hart fumbled the ball away, with
some difficulty. Welbeck
then also appealed for a penalty as he was bundled over in the box
after Sterling's dangerous
cross, again nothing doing from the Dutch referee.
On 23 minutes Mario Balotelli came into the match
for the first time, but his long shot flew well over the bar.
Then some brilliant play by Welbeck so nearly created the first
goal and only a desperate clearance off the line by a defender's lunge
saved the day as Sturridge almost touched the ball in.
England were looking dangerous at times but on 35 minutes all
this good early work was undone by an Italian goal.
They won a corner on the right and the ball was played in to
Pirlo, who cleverly dummied over the ball to leave Claudio Marchisio a
clear shot at goal.
Whereas earlier, from a similar position, Welbeck had shot wide, this
time Machiano made no mistake with a low shot through a forest of legs
into the far corner. It was a
bitter blow for England, especially after such a promising start for
Two minutes after the goal though England came
back, and they equalised with a gem of a goal of their own.
Sterling picked the ball up in his own half and quickly spotted
Wayne Rooney's run down the left.
A superb pass took the Italian defenders out of the game and
Rooney hit an early sublime cross into the middle where Sturridge
blasted the ball home on the half-volley.
It was a wonderful repost by England, and thoroughly deserved.
Only sour note came from the bench where stalwart physio, Gary
Lewin, in his excitement, leapt up, only to succeed in dislocating his
ankle and being carried off on a stretcher!
As the match ticked past the 40 minute mark, it
was obvious that both sets of players were feeling the heat, and the
break would be very welcome.
But before the end of the half England had two massive scares,
first when Balotelli gained possession and lobbed towards an empty
goal as Hart was caught out of position.
Luckily for England, Phil Jagielka was alert and cleared the
ball with a super saving header.
But almost immediately, another Italy attack ended with the
unmarked Candreva hitting the post from a tight angle.
By now the break couldn't come quick enough for England.
The half-time break left everyone thinking that
if England could cut out these defensive lapses in concentration, then
there would be every chance our lively front players could snatch a
After the interval England again came out and
started positively, and Sturridge was so unlucky, as his twist and
turns created the chance of a shot which again was parried by the
goalkeeper. But just as in
the first half, with England congratulating themselves for their
bright start, the Italian side did what they have done for years, they
stifled the expectancy with a goal of their own.
England had been troubled by Italy's play down the right
throughout the first half and with Leighton Baines, not for the first
time, exposed by the lack of cover in front of him, Candreva worked
himself a position to send in a great cross to the far post.
With Johnson out of position and Gary Cahill caught out,
Balotelli was left with a free header which he joyfully powered past
his ex-teammate Hart.
This was such a disappointment for the England
players and fans alike, but so typical of the experienced Italians, to
hit a team when they are on a high!
England, to their credit, fought back well and
Welbeck again might have had a penalty after being brought down for a
second time in the match.
Then Rooney exploded and his fine run and shot only just went wide of
the far post. Johnson put
in another dangerous cross but again there was no-one on the end of
it. Gerrard was also
bundled over in the box, and it was ironic that all these penalty
appeals were far more conclusive than that Brazilian penalty awarded
in their opening game.
Alas, England would never be that lucky!
Roy Hodgson brought on Ross Barkley for Welbeck
and a minute later England created their best chance to equalise.
Baines had joined the attack and his fine pass set up Rooney.
England's current leading scorer cut inside and did everything
right, beating the goalkeeper all ends up.
Unfortunately he also dragged the ball wide of the post.
It was a real 'head in the hands' moment.
Three minutes later Barkley surging run ended with an excellent
shot which the goalkeeper patted out.
How often we see goalkeepers today patting the saves back into
the danger areas only for there to be no follow up punishment.
was slipping away for England but they pushed forward relentlessly
looking for that deserved equaliser.
They were playing so well, but in the final third the Italians
were proving just a little too good for them.
And always there was Pirlo, pulling all the strings with
another masterclass of a midfield performance of fine passes with the
minimum of effort.
Hopefully, Jack Wilshere, who had come on as a substitute, was talking
it all in for future reference?
In the last 20 minutes you could not fault
England's effort to gain some reward.
Johnson hit another fine shot just wide, Baines saw his
free-kick again patted out by Sirigu, and Adam Lallana came on to add
his attacking flair to the proceedings.
By this time, man of the match Sterling had tired, and was less
effective out on the right wing, but one darting run inside so nearly
created the chance we all craved.
Barkley, Lallana and Rooney all put in efforts, blocked or
saved, and in the end England just couldn't quite break the Italian
In many ways it was such a disappointing start for England, but in
other ways it was one of the best performances from an England team
for a very long time. They
deserved a draw, without a doubt, but that clinical killer touch
wasn't quite there. When these
young lads learn that skill, this England team will go places, that is