MANAUS, Brazil – With one movement of his head, Mario Balotelli gave Italy a 2-1 victory over England and put the four-time champions in position to go far at the World Cup.
The often volatile and often brilliant Italy striker was left 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 had scored first for Italy, sending a long shot through a crowded area and past a diving Hart in the 35th minute. Daniel Sturridge equalized 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 an ideal time.
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“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 Amazonian city of Manaus, the most exotic of the 12 World Cup venues for this year’s tournament. According to FIFA officials, it was 86 degrees with humidity at 61 percent for the opener for both teams.
“At times, it felt like having hallucinations due to the heat,” said Marchisio.
England coach Roy Hodgson said, “We all need time to digest what happened on the field. My gut feeling is that we did very good things.
“There were some very good individual performances.”
Balotelli is one of the most talented strikers in soccer, but there were some predictions heading into the World Cup he would be dropped in favor of Ciro Immobile.
Immobile, who plays for Torino, scored a hat trick last weekend in a warm-up match against Brazilian club Fluminense. Coach Cesare Prandelli decided to stick with his main man, and it certainly looked like the right choice.
“He gave everything he had,” Prandelli said of Balotelli.
Prandelli was pleased with both the team’s performance and the preparations in Coverciano, Italy’s training base in Florence.
“We played well. It was a tough victory, but we maintained supremacy in the middle of the pitch,” he said. “We worked well in Coverciano and you could see that. They (England) had cramps midway through the second half, and that shows that our work paid off.”
Prandelli questioned the decision to not have official timeouts during play.
“It was impossible to maintain the intensity,” he said.