When the battle of traditional heavyweights was all over, Italy let the world know: This isn’t 2010. After a disappointing showing in the South Africa four years ago, the Italians opened up in Brazil with a 2-1 victory in the heat and humidity of the Amazonian city of Manaus. Claudio Marchisio and Mario Balotelli struck for gli Azzurri, while Daniel Sturridge hit for England.
PIRLO, THE GENIUS: Italy's Andrea Pirlo orchestrated the midfield like a maestro at La Scala, but his best play of the match very well could have been one where he didn’t touch the ball. On Marchisio's 35th-minute goal, Pirlo dummied the ball so it ran through to Marchisio, who took a touch and drilled a shot into the side netting to give Italy their first goal.
HOW TO CELEBRATE A WORLD CUP GOAL: England got back into the match two minutes later, when Daniel Sturridge buried a perfectly lofted cross by Wayne Rooney. And then the Liverpool striker showed exactly how to let loose.
LUCK OF THE ENGLISH: This game could have gotten out of hand if not for a few fortunate stops for England while Italy put on the pressure late in the first half. Balotelli lofted a shot over Joe Hart but Phil Jagielka headed the ball off the line to preserve the tie. Moments later, Antonio Candreva fired a shot inside the near post, but nailed the woodwork. Not to mention a top-notch free kick in second-half stoppage time by Pirlo that dinged off the crossbar.
FORZA SAN ANTONIO? Could this cross-sport reference of the Italian national team be spot on? I’d buy it.
Italy is the San Antonio Spurs of the #WorldCup: they play phenomenal team ball, defense, people say that they are boring and flop too much— #NES (@HashtagNES) June 14, 2014
MAN OF THE MATCH: Salvatore Sirigu stepped in admirably when Gianluigi Buffon was a late scratch. Sirigu looked out of position at times, but stepped up and showed athleticism to come up with some timely saves. England certainly didn’t fear the Italian keeper, peppering him with shots from distance early and often, but he was up to the task.