Italy 2 - England 1: Initial reaction and random observations

Claudio Villa

Azzurri live up to their billing.

SB Nation's 2014 World Cup Bracket'

Truly when the going gets tough in international competition, Italy get going. After a rocky buildup to the World Cup was topped off by the news that talisman Gianluigi Buffon would miss the first game with a sprained ankle, only the most optimistic of fans would have expected a positive result from this game. Instead, the Azzurri used a perfect mix of experience and youth, flair and graft, to dispatch a plucky but ultimately naive England side.

There was little Salvatore Sirigu could have done to keep out Daniel Sturridge out from point-blank range. Aside from that, the stand-in keeper was impeccable. Could not have expected more from him.

Gabriel Paletta was shaky in the back - was he really any better than Leonardo Bonucci would have been? Lucky for him 'The Wall' Andrea Barzagli showed exactly why he has earned that name.

Matteo Darmian was excellent throughout - always found acres of space behind the English midfield and made hay while the sun shined. A very pleasant surprise, he will have roundly silenced his critics with that performance.

Oh Chiello. Giorgio Chiellini looked a little out of his depth out there on the leftt, but was very ably protected by Claudio Marchisio, until Il Principino had to switch over to the right after Marco Parolo entered the game. More on Marchisio later. Chiellini had a couple of awful giveaways early but stabilized later, even though Raheem Sterling had the beating of him consistently.

England did nothing to man-mark or otherwise stifle the Italian midfield. Italy were ready for that too and Prandelli had his tactics spot-on on the day. Here's a stat to boggle your mind - Italy completed 92.2% of passes today. Highest pass percentage by any team in a World Cup game since 1966.

Mario Balotelli didn't get much service, but that is his role on this team. He knows he needs to stay sharp and did, taking his chance when it came. Good header there for the winner.

Getting to the really good players now, who all had spectacular performances really. Antonio Candreva had a man-of-the-match type performance today. Found plenty of joy against the unsupported Leighton Baines, and was a constant terror whenever Darmian overlapped with him.

Claudio Marchisio is a favorite of Juventus fans, but has taken flak previously for some sub-par performances in the blue shirt. Not today though - excellent shot for the goal, excellent work rate tracking back and supporting the defence, excellent in holding the ball, another candidate for MOTM.

And then there's the one, the only..  Andrea Pirlo. Masterful performance from the legend, really deserved a goal from that thumping freekick right at the end. Conducted the entire game wonderfully, you could see why he's been nicknamed 'Mozart' at times. His supporting cast of Daniele de Rossi and Marco Verratti performed their roles admirably too - though I'd say Verratti didn't impress me too much, but I wasn't looking too hard either.

Closing thought: The sight of Pirlo trotting along effortlessly while the English young 'uns were going down with cramps made me laugh.

Let's hear your opinions in the comments below, Danny will put up a detailed match report later tonight.

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