It’s business as usual for Italy, but England is encouraged
Italy, World Cup winners in 1982 and 2006, have established a habit of winning games they do not dominate
Italy delivered a reminder of their qualities of organization and patience in their 2-1 World Cup victory over England on Saturday but opposing manager Roy Hodgson was encouraged by a display which confirmed the potential of his young talents.
After Uruguay struggled in their 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica earlier in Group D's opening game both Italy and England will still feel confident that they can make it to the second round.
The game in steamy Manaus may not have had the entertainment value that Costa Rica produced in their surprise win but there was plenty to suggest that the two European teams have more than enough in their arsenal to deal with the buoyant Central Americans.
Italy, World Cup winners in 1982 and 2006, have a long established habit of winning games they do not dominate and Cesare Prandelli's 2014 version are evidently no different in that respect.
Inevitably, Italy's possession play was controlled by the sublime Andrea Pirlo, who despite being a 35-year-old playing in extreme heat and humidity, once again dictated play and almost crowned his performance when he struck the bar with a late free-kick.
In Mario Balotelli, Italy also have a striker who has the invaluable knack of emerging from a largely anonymous performance to grab the decisive goal.
"It was difficult, the climate was tough and England are strong...Italy suffer, they always suffer but the important thing is to win," said Balotelli.
The Italians took the lead through a well-executed, well-rehearsed set-piece, with Claudio Marchisio driving home after a clever dummy from Pirlo.
After England fought back to level with a Daniel Sturridge goal, Italy restored their advantage with Balotelli's 50th minute header from a superb Antonio Candreva cross.
For both goals, England's defending could be questioned - Marchisio was given far too much space and time for his sweetly struck drive and Gary Cahill allowed Balotelli to pull away from him too easily.
But Hodgson was rightly encouraged by the positive play his team produced with the ball, particularly in the second half where they spent large swathes of the game in the Italian half.
"I think it was undoubtedly the best I have seen the team play, as a team, during my time with them and it is very good to know that we have so many players who I think will help us become a much better team going forward," said Hodgson.
"I thought Raheem Sterling was very dangerous throughout the game, (Daniel) Sturridge was excellent right the way through and (Danny) Welbeck had some very good moments," added the England manager.
Sterling provided an unpredictable element that English teams of the recent past have lacked - his pace and directness posing the Italian defense questions they struggled to answer, particularly in the first half.
But Italy also offered up some surprises - Matteo Darmian, the Torino right-back, making only his second international appearance offering a double threat with Candreva down England's left.
Hodgson was disappointed with England's final pass in the second half as they failed to turn their pressure into real scoring opportunities and that is something his team will need to address when they face a smarting Uruguay in Sao Paulo on Thursday.
England have so often been over-hyped at home that it is a strange situation for them to lose an opening World Cup game and leave the impression of encouraging progress.
But for Italy, it was business as usual and the tournament's favorites will have taken note.
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