Traditionally, Italy are known to be slow starters at tournaments but their win over England betrayed history. It wasn’t a vintage Italian performance but they did do enough in the intense heat and humid conditions of Manaus. It’s everything Prandelli would have hoped it to be. The Azzurri came away unscathed as no names were added to the injury list that saw the likes of Mattia De Sciglio and Gianluigi Buffon on the treatment table.
It wasn’t only the opponents that the managers had on their minds but also the aggressive conditions surrounding the game. The Amazonia had to be the least fancied venue on the Brazilian map with furnace like atmosphere only adding spice to the game. Perhaps it was the advantage of playing in the Confederations Cup last year that aided Italy’s cause; they experienced this sort of environment which facilitated their pre-game fitness plans. Italy looked much the more comfortable side even though England had the younger legs.
Heading into the game, Prandelli kept his cards close to his chest. He created illusions about potential formations in pre-World Cup friendlies to keep Roy Hodgson guessing. England, however, were buoyed by the news of the absence of Italy’s talisman, Gigi Buffon. The Juventus man had been struck by injury and his deputy, Savatore Sirigu, had to face the call of duty. But Buffon wasn’t the only injury casualty, Mattia De Sciglio’s tournament is in jeopardy which meant Gabriel Paletta had his chance to shine.
Two players who by no means are regular starters were clearly identified as weak points to a somewhat make-shift Azzurri back-line. Hodgson would order his men to try their luck against Sirigu while his side’s best asset – their pace – would mean Paletta was chasing shadows. While Sirigu flourished on the night, Paletta faltered. His lack of speed was evident and every time an English player ran at him, you feared the worst.
The Andrea Pirlo Show
How do you deal with someone like Andrea Pirlo? You can’t leave him alone, that would be the footballing equivalent of tying your own pretty noose. Do you put a pitbull on him? Close him down every chance you get? England had the latter tactic in mind. Pirlo wasn’t given much space but when you focus your entire attention on one man, you tend to lose track of the other weapons in the side; case in point, Italy’s opener.
Pirlo’s casual nonchalant step-over opened a world of space for an unmarked Claudio Marchisio. The Juventus midfielder duly obliged and his laser beam ripped through the English defense and into the back of the net. The maestro would keep things ticking throughout the game with sprinkles of brilliance that would lighten up your eyes. Even though he did play in a slightly unnatural left of centre position, his influence wouldn’t wane.
English Pace Would Be Italy’s Poison
With Sterling, Sturridge and Rooney in your side, you can boast of bags of speed; players willing to go direct and run at defenders forcing them onto the back-foot. And this would turn out to be the bane of Italy. They say you’re at your most vulnerable just after you score and Italy did little to squash that train of thought.
A counter-attack that married incisiveness and raw pace would unlock the Italy back-line. Raheem Sterling, who buzzed around the entire night, released Wayne Rooney into acres of space and his pinpoint-cross would find an opportunistic Daniel Sturridge. It was a devastating combination of three of England’s most potent attackers. You can heap the blame on Paletta, as most have done for allowing Sturridge the freedom in the danger zone, but this was as much a fault of the collective than the individual.
Matteo Darmian Justifies Selection
Every World Cup, Italy hunt for their Toto Schillachi, their Fabio Grosso but with the kind of shift Darmian put in, Italy may have found their star of this tournament. The Torino man was a constant menace down Italy’s right flank and ultimately it was his combination with Antonio Candreva that set-up Mario Balotelli’s winner.
With the onus of width firmly on his shoulders, Darmian didn’t disappoint. The full-back showed tenacity and courage and was always a willing outlet down the flank in a team that has been starved of width.
Positives For England
It wasn’t all gloomy for the Three Lions. Their performance on the pitch warranted praise. This is a young and relatively inexperienced squad and while it may not have the stars of yesteryear, there’s plenty of promise for the future. The Liverpool duo of Sterling and Sturridge in particular showed heart and their undoubted quality with moments of excitement.
With two must win games lined up, Roy Hodgson will take heart from his side’s performance. Qualification is still in within their grasp but the signs are there that they’re up for two of the most important games of their campaign.