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Balotelli earns Italy narrow victory over England

England 1-2 Italy
Mario Balotelli scored the winner five minutes into the second half after Daniel Sturridge cancelled out Claudio Marchisio's opener.

Italy withstood late England pressure to open their 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign with a 2-1 victory in energy-sapping Manaus.

After Daniel Sturridge had quickly cancelled out Claudio Marchisio's 35th-minute opener, the Azzurri hit the front again through Mario Balotelli's header five minutes into the second period and this time there was no way back.

Like their UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final two summers ago, Italy bossed possession from the off, only this time England looked far more potent on the break. Raheem Sterling was particularly forceful, all direct running and exuberance. He sent an early effort just wide and caused a few scares in the Italy back line, but gradually the Azzurri wrested a measure of control and, in the ascendancy, they made it count.

A corner on the right was pulled to the edge of the box, where Andrea Pirlo let it run through his legs to Marchisio, with time to take a touch and drill a low shot through two England players' legs and into the net. The response was immediate, and it was that man Sterling who sparked it, freeing Wayne Rooney down the left. The forward crossed to the far post where Sturridge converted on the half volley.

Back came Cesare Prandelli's side. In first-half added time, Balotelli had a fine chip from an acute angle cleared off the line by Phil Jagielka, and from the resulting corner Antonio Candreva hit the base of the post. Soon after the restart the pair combined for Italy's second, Candreva cutting in from the right and delivering a cross which Balotelli, peeling away from Gary Cahill, headed in at the far post.

England committed men forward but could not quite find an equaliser, the best chance falling for Rooney, who pulled a shot wide when he ought to have hit the target. Much in Group D could rest on Thursday's meeting with a Uruguay side stunned 3-1 by Costa Rica on Saturday; Italy, who hit the bar through Andrea Pirlo in added time, face their fellow opening-day victors 24 hours later.