England must work on defence
Three Lions' attack promising but their defence is palpable
(Daniel Sturridge 37)
(Claudio Marchisio 35, Mario Balotelli 50)
England were expected to wilt in the Manaus humidity. In the end, they were humbled by their own naivety.
They melted not in body, but in mind. Rudimentary mistakes cost them against the smarter Italians, going down 2-1 this morning (Singapore time).
If their attack continues to display promise, their defence is a cause for concern.
Their positional sense is in urgent need of fine-tuning and, if the tactical naivety isn't addressed in the Rio training camp quickly, their World Cup expedition will be over before it's barely began.
England were not expected to overwhelm the Italians. Their youngsters are superstars in the making. Unfortunately, they were often schoolboys in reality.
For the Three Lions' newcomers, this World Cup campaign is an education. They need further lessons. They were schooled by the masterly Italians.
When the teamsheets were handed out, England appeared to have succeeded in their selections. But they failed in the execution.
Never one to be called a populist, Roy Hodgson gave the people what they wanted, opting for the youthful pace of Raheem Sterling alongside the more powerful presence of Danny Welbeck.
As expected, the Three Lions manager essentially borrowed Liverpool's template and swopped Luis Suarez for Wayne Rooney.
But either the humidity or first-game jitters appeared to curtail the template.
Unexpectedly, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson were the early culprits, conceding too much space in central midfield.
Dropping deep against opponents who essentially boast a pair of playmakers proved to be a hazardous exercise.
Andrea Pirlo and rising star Marco Verratti were granted the freedom of Manaus, leaving England's back four up the Amazon without a paddle.
With Daniele de Rossi sweeping up with his customary doggedness, the Italian trio were tip-tapping too many triangles around the Three Lions.
Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, but the twilight heat was proving maddening for these red-faced Englishmen.
Conceding so much space and possession was as exasperating as it was exhausting.
England had the greater ingenuity on the counter-attack and dominated the early half-chances, but stepping off both Pirlo and Verratti on the misguided assumption that the Italians were a one-dimensional attack was too risky.
Henderson continued to back off, allowing Pirlo to pick out the hand-waving Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva on the right like a classroom teacher picking out a student eager to answer a question.
In the end, Pirlo's freedom liberated the Italians. From a corner, of all things, he drifted from left to right, pulled off a dummy that dropped jaws across the stadium and presented a gift to Marchisio.
His Juventus teammate gleefully accepted from 20 metres.
The other perennial problem was Rooney. The humidity obviously didn't agree with him, but his failure to retreat allowed Candreva and Matteo Darmian to exploit the exposed Leighton Baines.
It's no coincidence that Italy's goal came from a corner on their right side.
Lost in the left-wing wilderness, his position might be in jeopardy now.
But, if Italy's opener was straight from the training ground, England's equaliser was straight from Melwood. On the counter-attack, Sterling swept the ball out wide to Rooney who, doing his best Suarez impression, thumped a cross for Sturridge to half-volley at the far post.
In the calamitous goal celebration that could only come from England, their physio Gary Lewin suffered a serious ankle injury. Even a fine counter-attacking England finish is not without its comedy.
But, for all the talk of England's youthful, vibrant attacking potential, there has been less discussion on their defensive frailties. This back four is decent, but not always dependable; this World Cup marks the first time the quartet have played together at a major tournament and it showed.
In the 50th minute, Candreva again profited down the right, beating Baines to whip in a cross for the rising, brutish Mario Balotelli. Cahill lost his man at the far-post.
As the movie line goes, how do you lose Balotelli? He's not a set of car keys.
If the goal knocked the stuffing out of England, the relentless humidity weakened the resolve of both sides.
The remainder of the game slowed to walking pace, which suited the puppeteer Pirlo.
The Italians remain the coldest of assassins when it comes to killing off games. They even silenced the English corner of the stadium.
The Three Lions never gave up, but Group D had exercised its fairytale comeback for the day with the courageous Costa Ricans. Manaus would not see a miracle.
Positional naivety, defensive vulnerability and the declining Rooney all conspired to cost England in the end.
They have four days to fix their shortcomings against Uruguay or they're going home.
It was warm, sticky — it was a tough pitch — it was dry. But they’re excuses. Italy were very good. They caused us a lot of problems. No matter what the result was tonight, we’d need to beat Uruguay on Thursday. It’s certainly doable.
- England skipper Steven Gerrard
BLOW BY BLOW
35min: GOAL! From a low, drilled Marco Verratti corner, Andrea Pirlo pulls off an outrageous dummy that blindsides the entire England defence. The ball pops up in front of the unmarked Claudio Marchisio, who has the time to take a touch and drill past a despairing, diving Joe Hart and into the bottom corner.
37: GOAL! On a terrific counter-attack, Raheem Sterling spreads the play out to Wayne Rooney on the left. Previously isolated and anonymous, Rooney curls a delicious cross to the unmarked Daniel Sturridge at the far post. The Liverpool striker clips home a precise half-volley.
45+1: Leighton Baines clears Mario Balotelli’s effot off the line, after Hart makes a hash of his angles.
50: GOAL! Balotelli thumps in a header at the far post, after a fine cross from Antonio Candreva on the right, with Baines again exposed. Gary Cahill fails to track Balotelli’s run.
61: Rooney turns in the box and blazes wide from just 12 metres.
77: Salvatore Sirigu tipsBaines’ free-kick around the post.
90: Pirlo smashes a dipping, curling free-kick against the crossbar.