Bold England beaten by Balotelli in Manaus: how Stats Zone saw England 1-2 Italy
Roy Hodgson was told to be bold, and the England boss didn't disappoint by throwing Raheem Sterling into his starting XI, the 19-year-old making his competitive debut in the No.10 role behind club-mate Daniel Sturridge.
The Group D clash in Manaus was expected to be a drab affair with two European sides wilting in the exotic heat. It proved to be anything but, as England's young side surged forward and fashioned 18 attempts at goal.
However, Hodgson's men return to Rio having been exposed badly down their left flank, an area the Azzurri frequently targeted and created the winning goal from, nodded home by Mario Balotelli.
The Three Lions went for the jugular early on, and Sterling's long-range shot had supporters out of their seats thinking the ball had crept inside the post rather than crashing into the side-netting. But Italy were already causing problems from the right wing, with full-back Matteo Darmian, not tracked by Wayne Rooney, galloping forward to support Antonio Candreva.
The metronomic Andrea Pirlo was soon stringing the ball about, and understudy Marco Verratti was providing more than a helping hand, completing all 28 of his passes by the 18-minute mark.
After half an hour, Italy had enjoyed 65% of the possession, yet England's direct running had helped them create 4 chances, the same number as their opponents.
Italy edged ahead after 34 minutes, a short corner eventually being dummied by Pirlo into the path of Claudio Marchisio, who finished clinically. Yet their advantage didn't last long, the previously quiet Rooney putting in an exquisite cross for Daniel Sturridge to level.
By half-time the shot count was already up to 15, with Italy twice going close moments before the whistle, as Balotelli's cheeky chip was kept out by Phil Jagielka and Candreva's shot hitting an upright.
England had been busy in the tackle in the opening 45 minutes, but did it successfully by winning 11/13, Danny Welbeck and Glen Johnson producing 6 of them on the right side.
Pirlo's influence on the game, meanwhile, was clear for all to see, topping the passing chart at half-time, while Darmian and Candreva were Italy's most advanced players as they continually bombed down the right wing.
Less than five minutes of the second half had elapsed when Italy regained the lead, and the goal originated from that pesky right flank with Candreva's cross perfect for Mario to convert.
England had started the second period in a positive fashion and that remained the case after falling behind. The first 9 minutes of the second half saw the Azzurri make just 1 attacking third pass - the one that led to the goal.
And as Roy's boys poured forward in search of a leveller, Italy were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure.
By the end, it was attack versus defence, England pressing and probing but not testing Salvatore Sirigu.
The performance of impact substitute Ross Barkley was one of several positives to take from the defeat; the Everton starlet completed all 17 of his passes, created 2 chances and completed 2/3 take-ons.