I tweeted immediately at the start that Prandelli's lineup was puzzling. To play Mario Balotelli alone up top in a hybrid 4-3-2-1 would not allow the target men to interact with a teammate further up the pitch. This was resoundingly true, what I didn't bargain for was Antonio Candreva, a player I have admired for a few season's now, was going to steal the show! From the outset it was England who were the better team, attacking with pace and wreaking havoc on the below average back four that Prandelli roled out. Chiellini at LB was a glaring weakness and why he paired Paletta alongside him instead of Bonucci would have been a burning question had Italy not scored a second. Water under the bridge considering the result but a lesson needs to be learned.
Darmian was the bright spot in defense but more so because England had absolutely no answer on that side of the pitch. It didn't matter which player went into that inside right channel, it was a island that Leighton Bains didn't enjoy, and received absolutely no help from Henderson or Rooney. It took Roy Hodgson forty five minutes to move the livelier Danny Welbeck into that role, but it negatively impacted the attack and you have to wonder why Adam Llana was not considered from the outset to cope with Italy who were clearly not going to attack down the left with Chiellini.
In the end Italy created fewer chances but had the better of the quality to finish and make them count. Mario Balotelli's goal was a thing of beauty, peeling off Cahill and heading the ball down. The problem with the goal, it was honestly the first time all match he was even near the 6 yard box crashing the goal. You have to wonder why he never attempts a headed goal for Milan!? As for England, Welbeck, Sturridge and Sterling were exciting and dangerous but their inexperience as they got closer to goal was evident. I remember a run of play in which Daniel Sturridge splintered the Italy defense and his over exuberance got the best of him the 18 yard box. Italy simply did what Italy is supposed to do, stay calm and rely on experience. When they locked down the defense in the last twenty minutes it wasn't the Italy of old but it was effective.
In the end Super Mario came to the rescue and my question regarding his stealing the show becomes even more pertinent as he kicks off the first match in style. He was Milan's only starter in this match, and he was calm and composed. He was not as busy as Ciro Immobile and at times went missing in action while his teammates were attempting to keep possession, frustrating at times, but Prandelli's patience was rewarded.
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Other News and Notes...
-Another Milan starter getting a goal was Keizuke Honda for Japan. He opened the scoring for Japan, but it was the Ivory Coast who stole the show. Their persistent to break down the flanks was rewarded with two goals against former Milan tactician, Alberto Zaccheroni's Japan.
-Uruguay, my pre-Cup favorite, had a rough go against Costa Rica. A silly red card for a pestilent foul was punished with three Costa Rican goals. Now they await the return of Suarez, but need to defeat both Italy and England to even have a chance to see the next round.