England-Italy Live: Mario Balotelli Heads Azzuri To 2-1 Win In Group D

England - Italy 2014 World CupFinal, 2-1 Italy: It’s over in Manaus. Italy defeats England in Group D.

Mario Balotelli. It had to be him. It’s always him. Balotelli scored the game-winning goal for Italy against the country in which he played his club soccer for two-and-a-half controversy-filled seasons.

Italy took a giant step toward the knockout rounds by prevailing in this hard-fought Group D encounter. The result reflects Italy’s advantage on the balance of play, but it was a close game and ultimately decided in one second-half moment.

Italy won the game in the midfield where Pirlo, De Rossi, Verratti and Marchisio passed with fluidity from start to finish. Their domination of the ball took its toll on England in the sweltering conditions of the Amazonian city. Once Balotelli scored the game-winner, Italy retreated into a defensive shell, while the tiring England searched in vain for the tying goal.

England’s players too often failed to deliver the final ball — be it a shot or pass — to the right place at the right time. When they did, Italy goalkeeper Sirigu ably denied their efforts. Sturridge and Sterling started brightly but faded, and Rooney didn’t influence the game in a way a player of his reputation should.

Italy joins Costa Rica as opening-day winners in Group D. The pressure now is on losers England and Uruguay. England will play Uruguay on Thursday in a game neither team can afford to lose. Italy will play Costa Rica on Friday for the right to clinch a spot in the knockout phase.

That’s all for now, and thanks for joining us. Let’s discuss this one on Twitter @NESNsoccer and Facebook. Be sure to keep an eye out for some news, fan reactions, analysis and opinion that is on the way on NESN.com.

90th minute +4, 2-1 Italy: Pirlo continues to thrill. The Italy captain strikes a swerving free kick that completely fools Hart but hits the crossbar.

90th minute + 2, 2-1 Italy: Sterling is cautioned for for bringing down Parolo from behind.

90th minute, 2-1 Italy: The fourth official indicates that there will be at least five minutes of added time.

87th minute, 2-1 Italy: Rooney has another chance — this one from 20 yards out — but his shot is high and wide.

85th minute, 2-1 Italy: It looks like England is running out of energy and ideas.

Italy has conceded possession, territory and free kicks in recent minutes, but England’s final passes or shots lack accuracy and authority. This part of the game is where the sweltering conditions take their toll on players.

79th minute, 2-1 Italy: Both teams make simultaneous substitutions again.

Sturridge departs for England. Lallana takes his place. Parolo replaces Candreva for Italy.

77th minute, 2-1: Baines’ dipping free kick looked bound for the goal, but Sirigu punched it away. The Italian goalkeeper is doing a good job filling in for the injured Buffon.

73rd minute, 2-1 Italy: Both teams make a substitution.

Wilshere replaces Henderson in England’s midfield. Immobile takes Balotelli’s place up front for Italy.

72nd minute, 2-1 Italy: The teams are almost swapping roles, as the game approaches its final 15 minutes. England is possessing the ball for long stretches in Italy’s half, while the Italians defend deep and look to counter-attack.

64th minute, 2-1 Italy: Barkley makes an immediate impact, forcing Sirigu to make a diving save.

62nd minute, 2-1 Italy: Rooney finds some space in the Italy area and shoots but fails to hit the target. He won’t get many better chances than that one.

61st minute, 2-1 Italy: Hodgson is changing things for England, replacing Welbeck with Barkley.

Barkley will take up an attacking position in the center, while Sterling goes wide right.

57th minute, 2-1 Italy: England upped the tempo after Balotelli’s goal, but Italy has held firm.

Prandelli makes his first substitution of the game, removing Verratti and bringing on the Brazil-born midfielder Motta.

50th minute, 2-1: Italy is back out front once again after Balotelli heads in Candreva’s cross at the back post.

Darmian dribbled past Welbeck on the right before passing to Candreva. The Italy midfielder received the pass deep in England’s area, cut it back on his left foot and crossed to the far post where Balotelli rose above Cahill to score.

49th minute, 1-1: Sturridge cuts inside from the right and shoots with his left foot from 35 yards out. Sirigu makes the save.

46th minute, 1-1: The second half is underway.

Halftime, 1-1: It’s a tie game at the end of the first half.

It took 35 minutes for the game to explode, but it became a thriller once it did. The teams traded goals in quick succession, through the efforts of Sturridge and Marchisio. There was more goal-mouth action before the break.

Italy controlled the balance of play for most of the half, but England was comfortable in defense and looking to hit back on quick counter-attacks whenever possible. Sturridge, Sterling and Welbeck have been particularly effective. Rooney was anonymous until that one moment when he set up Sturridge’s goal with a perfect pass to the far post.

Pirlo, De Rossi and Veratti have done well to dictate the game in the middle, but Italy was vulnerable on the wings from start to finish.

45th minute +1, 1-1: Italy has a pair of golden opportunities to score before the interval but England’s rebuffs them.

Balotelli tried an audacious lob from a tight angle. Jagielka headed it off the line.

Candreva then shot from close range. He beat Hart, but not the post.

39th minute, 1-1: This is odd.

37th minute, 1-1: Sturridge strikes back to give England an immediate response.

The goal came from a counter-attack down the left. Rooney ran onto a pass in the Italy third and chipped a cross to the far post where Sturridge arrived to knock it in.

35th minute, 1-0 Italy: Italy takes the lead thanks to Marchisio’s long range shot.

The goal came from a corner kick. A pass came to Pirlo near the top of the area. The Italian magician dummied it, allowing Marchisio to tee up a shot from 30 yards out that beat a host of England defenders as well as goalkeeper Joe Hart en route to the bottom corner of the goal.

31st minute, 0-0: The first half hour has produced few flash-points because it is a tactical duel so far.

Both teams have plenty of players in the middle so they are trying to attack down the wings. England’s fullbacks are defending well, which negates the Italians’ threat.

Sterling and Wellbeck are causing problems with their speed.

24th minute, 0-0: Italy has the possession, but England remains dangerous on the counter-attack. Welbeck and Sterling nearly have combined to put England ahead on two occasions, but each failed to connect with the other’s cross by a few inches.

19th minute, 0-0: Candreva shoots from distance, and Hart makes an unconvincing save.

19th minute, 0-0: Italy continues to enjoy all the possession but isn’t creating any danger from it.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, given the conditions. The temperature was close to 90 degrees at kickoff, and the team that runs less will inevitably have more energy in the latter stages of the game.

Balotelli largely has been isolated between the two England center backs.

13th minute, 0-0: The pace of the game is slowing after a fast start.

Italy is┬ácontrolling┬ápossession for long stretches, as England drops into a defensive posture in its own half. As expected, Italy’s midfield play revolves aorund Pirlo. With De Rossi behind him, Pirlo has the freedom to create chances higher up the field than he often does at club level.

Seventh minute, 0-0: The Italians are appealing for a penalty after the ball appeared to hit Johnson’s hand in the area. The referee thought otherwise and allowed play to continue.

Fifth minute, 0-0: Henderson threatens with a long-range strike of his own, but Sirigu makes the save.

Fourth minute, 0-0: Sterling nearly makes it a World Cup debut to remember. The 19-year-old dribbled into the Italy third and shot from 30 yards out. His effort missed the target but not by much.

First minute, 0-0: The Group D game between England and Italy is underway.

Kickoff: The anthems have been sung, and the game will start in a few minutes.

Italy has the advantage in the all-time series.

Pregame: There are few, if any, surprises in England’s lineup.

Gerrard and Henderson will shield the back four and alternate joining the attack, which includes Liverpool’s Sturridge and Sterling and Manchester United’s Welbeck and Rooney.

The spotlight will be on Rooney during this game and throughout the World Cup. The 28-year-old is his country’s biggest star, but many wonder if his best days are in the past. Rooney can quiet those doubters, for now, with a strong World Cup.

Italy looks like it will pack bodies in the middle of the field, as De Rossi, Pirlo, Verratti and Marchisio are nominally central midfielders. Candreva will make darting runs from the wing in support of lone striker Balotelli.

5:30 p.m.: Here are the lineups:

England

Joe Hart (1), goalkeeper
Glen Johnson (2), right back
Gary Cahill (5), center back
Phil Jagielka (6), center back
Leighton Baines (3), left back
Steven Gerrard (4), midfielder
Jordan Henderson (14), midfielder
Raheem Sterling (19), forward
Danny Welbeck (11), forward
Wayne Rooney (10), forward
Daniel Sturridge (9), striker

Italy

Salvatore Sirigu (12), goalkeeper
Giorgio Chiellini (3), left back
Gabriel Paletta (20), center back
Andrea Barzagli (15), center back
Matteo Darmian (4), right back
Daniele De Rossi (16), midfielder
Andrea Pirlo (21), midfielder
Claudio Marchisio (8), midfielder
Marco Verratti (23), midfielder
Antonio Candreva (6), midfielder
Mario Balotelli (9), striker

5 p.m. ET: For months, England and Italy have downplayed their own expectations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. On Saturday, we’ll learn which traditional power really means it.

England and Italy meet in their Group D on Saturday at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil.

Field and weather conditions are expected to play a major role in the game. It will be hot and humid in the Amazonian city, and the field at the stadium is said to be in very bad condition. These factors will affect the quality of the game but can’t ruin the spectacle that these teams and their fans will provide.

England’s squad contains the names that are familiar to Premier League fans everywhere. England manager Roy Hodgson will set up his team in a way that makes it difficult to open up, and it will look to counter-attack with speed.

Italy head coach Cesare Prandelli has at least one area for concern, as goalkeeper Gigi Buffon has been ruled out of the contest due to an ankle injury. Salvatore Sirigu will replace Buffon in goal.

The game kicks off at 6 p.m. Join us right here for all the action.

Group D preview >>

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