Manaus (Brazil): Italy were truly class in their 2-1 win against an aggressive England as Claudio Marchisio and Mario Balotelli struck in either half for the Azzurri in a crucial and gripping Group D contest, here today.
Italy lost skipper and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon hours before the start of the clash due to injury but did not allow the setback to affect their performance.
Salvatore Sirigu was excellent under the bar in the absence of legendary Buffon, making spectacular saves.
Italy's midfielder Claudio Marchisio celebrates scoring during a Group D football match between England and Italy at the Amazonia Arena in Manaus during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. AFP PHOTO
In a fascinating first half, Italy surged ahead on a set-piece goal in the 35th minute by Marchisio and England retaliated two minutes later through Daniel Sturridge, brilliantly fed by Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling.
England attacked relentlessly but it was young Balotelli, the hero of Italy's Qualifying campaign, who found the winner for the Azzurri early in the second half.
He headed home a sumptuous pass from Antonio Candreva, five minutes into the second half and that proved decisive in the outcome.
England's failure to get the equaliser meant that they have made a losing start to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years and remained winless against Italy in a competieve match since 1977.
The clash was a repeat of a 2012 European Championship quarterfinal between the two teams and the Italians prevailed yet again.
Rooney, who has been struggling playing from the left, had a brilliant chance to equalise after getting a pass from Leighton Baines but he hit wide in the 62nd minute.
Italy kept England at bay for the remainder of the session to walk through with three points. Nevertheless, Sturridge and Sterling were outstanding for England.
An upset 3-1 win for Costa Rica over Uruguay early in the day in Fortaleza means that England now have an enormous challenge to advance to the second round from Group D.
Uruguay badly missed star striker Luis Suarez as Costa Rica rallied from a goal down to stun Copa America champions. Two goal in three minutes from Joel Campbell and Oscar Duarte rocked the Uruguay defence.
Substitute Urena made it 3-1 for his side, capitalising on a pass from Campbell, minutes before the whistle.
In a Group C match in Belo Horizonte, Colombia made a grand return to the World Cup finals after 16 long years with a superb 3-0 win over Greece. It was their best ever result in World Cup finals.
At Manaus, both England and Italy played very fast, skillful and engaging game from the start, and it was Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling, who took the first aim at the goal with a stunning shot from 25 yards after beating two men in midfield.
He almost pulled it off for the British side, playing at a former colonial post, but the shot crashed into the side-netting.
Consistent English raids put Italian defence under some pressure.
It was Sterling again creating a chance as he charged from the left and sent a perfect cross but Danny Welbeck could not reach to that.
Welbeck was quickly back in action as he puts in a low cross after beating a defender, Daniel Sturridge was inches away from a tap-in. Italy got their first corner in the 33rd minute and immediately struck with a sensational set-piece.
Receiving from the right corner, Andrea Pirlo lets the ball go through his legs towards Claudio Marchisio, who stopped the ball shot it into the net through the legs of both Wayne Rooney and Gary Cahill.
But Italy's joy was short-lived as two minutes later England levelled on counter attack.
In a flowing move, Sterling sent the ball rolling from left towards Rooney, who had enough space to send a cross and Daniel Sturridge latched on the half volley to slam home the equaliser.
Italy regained the lead in the 50th minute when Antonio Candreva sent a pass to Balotelli, who nodded in easily. England came close to getting equaliser on a few occasions but Rooney missed two chances.
In the 77th minute, England failed to capitalise on a free kick as Baines' brillant shot over the wall and into the corner was spectacularly saved by Italian goalkeeper Sirigu.
In the dying moments, Andrea Pirlo's free-kick from right to left hit the crossbar.