This was a noble defeat in a excellent match from which England ought to have taken at least a point. Maintain this level of performance and Roy Hodgson can realistically hope for wins against Costa Rica and Uruguay. My report may be unnecessary; most will have seen it, too. But I offer it in case there is appetite and in the hope that readers will have their own say, too.
The fantasy was that I’d sit back in France, feet up at what for me is midnight and watch the game in the knowledge one of Salut! Sunderland‘s vast team of editors, writers, analysts and illustrators would do all the work. Well no one volunteered though they may pop up later, of course, so here goes …
That was as good an England international as I have seen in a long while, one to inspire pride and faith in the job Roy Hodgson is doing. England had more than enough chances to level the scores after going behind for the second time but could not quite force another equaliser.
The early stages settled quickly into a tight duel with both teams functioning effectively and passing with equal accuracy. If Italy were patient and methodical, dominating possession, England were more incisive and dangerous.
Jordan Henderson was outstanding, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling were real, exciting threats. Wayne Rooney, in a defensive-midfield role, was spot-on with a string of passes at distance from left to right flank. Three long-range efforts from Sterling, Henderson and Welbeck went teasingly close. Glen Johnson also had a go but shot well wide and a pulsating run by Welbeck would have presented Daniel Sturridge with an open goal but for Andrea Barzagli’s desperate saving touch.
Just when I was thinking England had done well to limit Italy to a Mario Balotelli shot over the bar and Joe Hart’s momentarily alarming fumble of a swerving Antonio Candreva shot from 25 yards, a goal game out of the blue.
Andrea Pirlo stepped cleverly over a ball across the outside of the penalty area fooling Sturridge. It ran to Claudio Marchiso whose impeccable shot went through at least two pairs of England legs to end up in the corner of the net beyond Hart’s reach. Fabio Borini will have been thinking: “That could have been me.”
England’s equaliser came two minutes later, Sterling freeing Rooney superbly down the left to put in a magnificent cross that Sturridge finished in style. England fully deserved to be level but had to endure a couple of scary moments before half-time, Phil Jagielka heading Balotelli’s lob off the line with Hart stranded and Candreva hitting a post.
Infuriatingly, after a bright start to the second half, England were behind again. Candreva made masses of space on the right and Balotelli skipped away from Cahill to head his deep cross past Hart. Cahill seemed aware of the danger but could do nothing about it; Johnson seemed awol.
But England came back, over and again shooting narrowly wide or seeing Salvatore Sirigu pull off saves. Welbeck flopped ridiculously in the area to no avail; Steven Gerrard had a better case when he was bundled over soon afterwards
Another equaliser didn’t seem willing to come, much to the joy of Brazilians in the crowd. Rooney, Johnson and Ross Barkley, on for Welbeck, all missed narrowly. This was a spirited, high-tempo and heartening England display marred only by defensive lapses of concentration.
As minutes slipped away, England were spending long periods in the Italian half. But passes were starting to astray for the first time, Rooney ballooned a corner straight behind the goal, shits were more wayward and I suspected a breakaway third for Italy might be likelier than an England second.
It is of scant consolation that it didn’t come, not even when Pirio beat everyone with a late free kick but was defied by the crossbar. At the other end, England ran out of time, and perhaps also of a little steam. It was, said the TF1 commentator in France, a “super game”.