Balotelli's header downs England
Balotelli shows England's forwards how it's done
ENGLAND 1 (DANIEL STURRIDGE 37)
(CLAUDIO MARCHISIO 35, MARIO BALOTELLI 50)
The rapturous applause that accompanied his substitution summed up the superb performance of Mario Balotelli.
His winner in Italy's 2-1 victory this morning (Singapore time) handed his side a winning start to their 2014 World Cup campaign.
It also leaves England now fretting over a possible early exit.
In a match that showcased some of the best attacking moments of the tournament so far, it was Balotelli who stole the show.
The Azzurri had taken a 35th-minute lead through Claudio Marchisio, only for Daniel Sturridge to level the score moments later.
But Balotelli lurked in the shadows, waiting for his chance.
Coach Cesare Prandelli's faith in the controversy magnet is telling.
Two years ago, the 23-year-old AC Milan striker repaid him in a big way.
Balotelli played a major role, with three goals, as Italy reached the Euro 2012 final.
That two of those came in the shock 2-1 win over Germany in the semi-finals was evidence that he has the big-match temperament to go with his talent.
In Prandelli's eyes, he was certainly a risk worth taking.
England's players could not have been unaware of the threat he posed. Balotelli spent three years in the English Premier League with Manchester City, with whom he carved a reputation of being a gem with a hot temper.
But practice doesn't always make perfect; stopping him is usually a tough ask, and it proved to be yet again.
He was pummelling England's shaky backline right from the start.
He came close with a long-range effort halfway through the first half.
Seconds from the break, he attempted an audacious shot over the goalkeeper, only for Phil Jagielka to foil, on the goal-line, what would have been a brilliant goal.
It was clear Balotelli was in the mood.
Five minutes into the second half, he finally beat England goalkeeper and former teammate Joe Hart.
The stealth he showed to evade the attention of Gary Cahill, the athleticism to meet the cross at the far post, and the instinct to make the run there in the first place, demonstrated all at once the footballing genius Italy possess.
Showing composure of a cold-blooded assassin, he nodded down Antonio Candreva's superb cross to give Italy a victory they just about deserved.
With this win, his side have planted one foot into the next round.
Next up are Costa Rica, whom they are expected to beat easily.
Prandelli needs Balotelli to make sure of it. So, against England, he took off his star man in the 73rd minute, confident that they had already completed their mission.
This time, for a change, he didn't see the need to take a chance on Balotelli.
It was madness not to have time-outs in these conditions. It was impossible to maintain that level of intensity. The team suffered, but we maintained supremacy.
- Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, on the 30 deg C heat and high humidity in Manaus