Italy opens its World Cup campaign by defeating England

Italian striker Mario Balotelli, center, heads the ball past English goalkeeper Joe Hart for the winning goal in the 50th minute.

Associated Press

Italian striker Mario Balotelli, center, heads the ball past English goalkeeper Joe Hart for the winning goal in the 50th minute.

MANAUS, Brazil — With one nod of his head, Mario Balotelli gave Italy a 2-1 win over England on Saturday and put the four-time champion in position to go far at the World Cup.

The often volatile, often brilliant Italian striker was unmarked at the far post, giving him plenty of space to head a cross from Antonio Candreva past goalkeeper Joe Hart for the winning goal.

Claudio Marchisio scored first for Italy, sending a long shot through a crowded area and past a diving Hart in the 35th minute. Daniel Sturridge tied it for England two minutes later, tapping in a cross from Wayne Rooney.

Balotelli's header came in the 50th minute, but with the heat and humidity at the Arena da Amazonia slowing the pace of play in the second half, it came at just the right time.

"We won, but now let's keep our feet on the ground, otherwise we're not going anywhere," Balotelli said.

The match was played in the Amazon city of Manaus. According to FIFA, it was 86 degrees with 61 percent humidity.

"At times it felt like having hallucinations due to the heat," Marchisio said.

Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo completed more than 100 passes as his team connected on 92.2 percent, according to ESPN Stats and Information, the highest percentage in a World Cup game since 1966.

The defeat is sure to fuel an already pessimistic buildup to the tournament in England, where the rules of the game were codified.

"We all need time to digest what happened on the field," English coach Roy Hodgson said. "My gut feeling is that we did very good things. There were some very good individual performances."

Costa Rica 3, Uruguay 1: Watching from the bench, Luis Suarez saw just how much his teammates miss him.

Uruguay was overrun by the Group D underdog in Fortaleza, a stunning result for the team that reached the semifinals four years ago.

Suarez, his team's top striker and this season's top scorer in the English Premier League for Liverpool, sat out after failing to fully recover from knee surgery.

Joel Campbell led most of Costa Rica's counterattacks and delivered the tying goal in the 54th minute, driving in a ball headed down by Celso Borges to beat goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. Oscar Duarte dived past the outstretched foot of Uruguay's Cristian Stuani to head in the winner.

"We spotted that they had weaknesses and we looked at those. We worked hard on headers and ways to dominate in the air, and we did that tonight," Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said.

Colombia 3, Greece 0: Colombia started its first World Cup campaign in 16 years in dazzling fashion in Belo Horizonte in front of a pro-Colombian crowd.

James Rodriguez capped the barrage with a low shot in stoppage time after a slick backheel flick from Juan Cuadrado.

"It was a good debut with players who had never played a World Cup. It's a big satisfaction," Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said. "This is how we planned this match."

Ivory Coast 2, Japan 1: Didier Drogba came off the bench to inspire a comeback victory in Recife in Group C.

Drogba, 36, who had been carrying a thigh injury, came on in the 62nd minute with his team down 1-0. The striker's arrival immediately lifted Ivory Coast and Wilfried Bony and Gervinho scored with headers two minutes apart, both set up by curling crosses from defender Serge Aurier.

Italy opens its World Cup campaign by defeating England 06/14/14 [Last modified: Saturday, June 14, 2014 11:41pm]

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