Italy vs England was to be one of the classics of this world cup, and it really became one. Both teams played with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm and in the end, the side that was better on the day turned out to be the winner.
Italy fielded just one forward in Mario Balotelli and had three changes from the side I detailed in my last post. The change meant more work for Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva in the midfield. Italy lost Gigi Buffon and Mattia De Sciglio with injuries and that gave opportunities to Salvatore Sirigu and Matteo Darmian. Darmian had to take care of the right wing, which meant the regular centre-back Giorgio Chiellini had to move left and along the flank.
Both teams started well and Italy scored first thanks to some brilliant deception technique by stand-in captain Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo jumped over a ball to deceive the Englishmen, which gave enough time to Marchisio to plan his long ranger effectively. In less than three minutes, England drew level thanks to a brilliant cross from Wayne Rooney targeting Daniel Sturridge. Balotelli tried a great slow lofted ball from almost 180 degrees, which beat the goalkeeper but was headed away to safety by English centre-back Gary Cahill.
The second half started with Italy moves and the fast Candreva created opportunity for a perfect close-in header for Balotelli. This put the Azzurri in front, a lead they maintained till the end of the game with some perfect defensive tactics. Pirlo almost scored from a curvy free kick, that deflected off the English post, much to the astonishment of a bewildered Joe Hart at the goal.
Sirigu demonstrated his talent in the absence of Italy’s regular shot stopper and he saved some long rangers with great skill and concentration. Darmian was quick on the right wing and crafted several swift moves. But the make shift left back Chiellini was not fast and most of his moves were very slow. This left Italy with attacks from one wing alone. Raheem Sterling was the star for England. He played the whole 90 minutes and justified his place in the starting lineup with some fantastic fast moves and some fearless long rangers at times. Aside from the cross that helped Sturridge score the equaliser, Rooney was nowhere near his best. He even wasted one corner kick by lobbing it behind the net.
Italy did well to score goals and defend their goal line. This would allow them to face Costa Rica and Uruguay with more confidence. They would really fancy their chances against Costa Rica and ensure their place in the pre-quarters. Even if they lost, England has a better chance of qualifying ahead of Uruguay because they have a match left against Costa Rica. England should plan well and beat Costa Rica to pile up pressure on Uruguay to win their last match against Italy.
Italy takes many positives from this match. Sirigu, who had a good outing against Ireland in one of the friendlies leading to the world cup, had an impressive game on his world cup debut. In the next match, I would like the manager Cesare Prandelli to move Chiellini back to the centre, drop Gabriel Paletta, and include De Scilio if he is fit. Else, they should bring Ignazio Abate on the right and move Darmian to the left. Marco Verratti wasn’t given enough room to work and he couldn’t make an impact in his first world cup outing. But I would like Prandelli to give him another opportunity in the next match.
Italy faces Costa Rica next, and hopefully a win will help them ensure a place in the round of 16. Go Azzurri!