x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Super Mario Balotelli nets gold-star header to sink Sturridge and England

'It's disappointing, we put so much effort into it' said Steven Gerrard after England were beaten 2-1 by Italy on Saturday, with Balotelli's header cancelling out a fine equaliser effort earlier from Daniel Sturridge.

Mario Balotelli gestures to the crowd after scoring Italy's second goal in a 2-1 win over England at the 2014 World Cup on Saturday in Manaus, Brazil. Ivan Alvarado / Reuters / June 14, 2014
Mario Balotelli gestures to the crowd after scoring Italy's second goal in a 2-1 win over England at the 2014 World Cup on Saturday in Manaus, Brazil. Ivan Alvarado / Reuters / June 14, 2014

Mario Balotelli scored the winner as Italy beat England 2-1 in their World Cup duel in the Amazon on Saturday.

AC Milan striker Balotelli nodded past former Manchester City teammate Joe Hart on 50 minutes to decide the tense Group D encounter at Manaus’s sweltering Amazonia Arena.

Italy’s Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio had fired the Azzurri into a deserved lead on 35 minutes, rifling home a low shot from outside the area after a well-worked corner routine wrong-footed the English defence.

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England struck back with a fine goal on the counter-attack. Raheem Sterling released Wayne Rooney down the left and the Manchester United star’s cross was buried by Daniel Sturridge.

The Italian victory leaves Cesare Prandelli’s side in pole qualifying position from Group D.

The only blot on a satisfying day for Italy was the absence of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was ruled out of the England match hours before kick-off with a twisted ankle.

England now face Uruguay in Sao Paulo next Thursday with the loser of that contest facing almost certain elimination.

“It’s disappointing, we put so much effort into it,” said England captain Steven Gerrard after.

“Italy were a very good team tonight and we fell a bit short. But we’re still very much alive in this group,” he added.

Balotelli nearly scored another in first-half injury time, running deep into the area and enticing Joe Hart to come off his line. The Italy striker stopped, looked toward goal and sent a chip over the keeper’s head – only for Phil Jagielka to clear by heading the ball over the bar.

England’s attack-minded lineup made frequent runs into the Italy area throughout the match, and came close to scoring several times.

The best of the rest of their chances came in the 24th when Danny Welbeck sent the ball across the front of goal but Andrea Barzagli was able to slide in and tip the ball up in the air. Raheem Sterling, who had been running in from the left, jumped for the header but couldn’t reach it, letting the ball go past him as he tumbled into the net.

SG keeper Salvatore Sirigu stepped up and made several good saves, but the best may have come in the 77th when he dived to his left to block a free kick from Leighton Baines.

According to Fifa, it was 30 degrees Celcius (86 degrees Farenheit) with humidity at a relatively low 61 per cent for the match in Manaus.

While none of the players appeared to be affected by the heat, there was an injury on the England bench when team physio Gary Lewin dislocated his ankle while celebrating Sturridge’s goal.

England and Italy were playing each other at the World Cup for only the second time. They also met in the third-place match at the 1990 World Cup, with the Italians also winning 2-1.

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