'Super Mario' sinks England

2014-06-15 02:29
Mario Balotelli (AFP)

Manaus - Mario Balotelli has scored the winner as Italy beat England 2-1 in their World Cup duel in the Amazon on Sunday, while Costa Rica provided a major shock with an upset win over Uruguay.

As it happened: England v Italy

AC Milan striker Balotelli nodded past former Manchester City team-mate Joe Hart on 50 minutes to decide the tense Group D encounter at Manaus's sweltering Amazonia Arena.

Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio had fired the Azzurri into a deserved lead on 35 minutes, rifling home a low shot from outside the area after a well-worked corner routine wrong-footed the English defence.

England struck back with a fine goal on the counter-attack. Raheem Sterling released Wayne Rooney down the left and the Manchester United star's cross was buried by Daniel Sturridge.

The Italian victory leaves Cesare Prandelli's side in pole qualifying position from Group D.

The only blot on a satisfying day for Italy was the absence of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was ruled out of the England match hours before kick-off with a twisted ankle.

England now face Uruguay in Sao Paulo next Thursday with the loser of that contest facing almost certain elimination.

Italy manager Prandelli offered words of encouragement for the vanquished English.

"They have one of the strongest attacks at the World Cup," he said.

"That's why I am satisfied because we played a really great team."

England coach Roy Hodgson said his team was still confident they could qualify for the last 16 as they contemplated remaining games against Uruguay and Costa Rica.

"If you lose the first game, you know you have probably got to win the next two, but the teams you're playing have to win, too," he said.

"At least our fate is on our hands. It's up to us to produce the right type of performance that will give us victory."

South American champions Uruguay's campaign got off to a disastrous start earlier when they were beaten 3-1 by Costa Rica at the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza. That came just 24 hours after the Netherlands humiliated reigning champions Spain 5-1 in Salvador.

Uruguay, despite being without star striker Luis Suarez, looked to be on the way to all three points in the Group D opener after Edinson Cavani's first half spot-kick put them ahead.

But Costa Rica brilliantly recovered with three second half goals to take the game and go top of Group D on goal difference.

Two goals in three minutes from Joel Campbell and Oscar Duarte put the Central Americans ahead before substitute Marcos Urena added a late third.

Uruguay's Maxi Pereira was sent off in injury time.

Costa Rica now play four-time world champions Italy in Recife next Friday.

Earlier, stylish Colombia shrugged off the absence through injury of star striker Radamel Falcao to hammer Greece 3-0 in Group C.

With Falcao watching from the stands, his Monaco team-mate James Rodriguez emerged as the star of the match, scoring one and setting up another for Teofile Gutierrez. Pablo Armero was Colombia's other scorer.

"We are capable of scoring goals and creating chances, which is a great thing to have," said Colombia's Argentinian coach Jose Pekerman.

"The important thing is that everyone did their bit for the team and that transmits confidence. We took our chances and knew how to play as a team."

In the final game of another exhilarating day, Ivory Coast came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 in Group C in Recife.

Keisuke Honda fired Japan ahead on 16 minutes before goals from Wilfried Bony (64) and Gervinho (66) gave the African giants a winning start to the tournament.

Sunday's matches see Argentina star Lionel Messi make his entrance to the tournament with the strongly fancied South Americans facing Bosnia at Rio's Maracana Stadium in Group F.

In Group E, France face Honduras in Porto Alegre while Switzerland take on Ecuador in Brasilia.

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