England excites but falls short
It’s been a long time since England have had enough individual talent (and pace) to excite the way they did tonight. Sterling was pick of the bunch, dribbling at anyone who wandered if front of him, but Sturridge, Welbeck, and even Barkley in the short time he was on, all showed England’s athleticism and variety in attack.
Strangely, it’s England’s defence that let them down, with Baines especially at fault on the second goal. While England's left-back had little help from Rooney down the flank, he was sidestepped far too easily on Mario Balotelli's winning goal. Hart too, while perhaps unlucky with the first two goals, was left with few excuses for his errors that fortunately yielded no goals. His early spill from a long-range effort eventually fell away from danger, while Jagielka first and the crossbar second, eventually saved him blushes after Balotelli and Pirlo left him helpless on separate occasions.
In all though, it was a promising performance from the English, although the result – and Hodgson’s changes – ultimately let them down.
Italy looks a proper side – with a proper manager
The Italians meanwhile are the European side perhaps best positioned to make a long run in this tournament. Standout performances from several of their high-profile players, including the still City-hero Mario Balotelli, should have Italian hopes high for the short-term future. Pirlo was exceptional, De Rossi was influential, and surprise starter Matteo Darmian had a wonderfully expansive showing from right-back.
Prandelli too, deserves praise for making well timed changes in effort to see out an important Group D victory. Taking off World Cup debutante Marco Veratti, who himself had a strong showing in midfield, in exchange for his Club-teammate Thiago Motta was a clever substation that gave Italy just that extra bit of poise in midfield. Candreva’s later exit for the more conservative Marco Parolo helped cement Italy’s shape for the final fifteen minutes, forcing England into several late stage mistakes.
Colombia make a Group C statement
In perhaps the tournament’s most wide-open group, it was Colombia who staked the most convincing claims to top it. Without star striker, Radamel Falcao, Jose Pekerman turned to Teo Martinez to spearhead the attack, but it was Victor Ibarbo and James Rodriguez from midfield, who made the biggest impacts. Juan Cuadrado showed his playmaking ability from out wide (along with his oft-brainless decision making), while goalkeeper David Ospina backstopped the Colombians to an opening game clean sheet.
Costa Rica shows CONCACAF’s depth
The day after Mexico won their first game of the tournament, Costa Rica continued CONCACAF’s perfect start with a shocking 3-1 defeat of Uruguay. Led by Arsenal striker, Joel Campbell, Costa Rica overturned a 1-nil halftime deficit largely because of Uruguay’s poor midfield display.
Without superstar (and part-time racist), Luis Suarez, to lead them, Uruguay lacked a cutting edge as Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan largely disappointed – although Cavani did convert Uruguay’s penalty. Now three points behind Italy, with matches still against the Italians and English, Uruguay have little margin for error, with the match against the English likely to prove decisive.
The Ivory Coast has a ways to go
A team that seems to be more a collection of individual talent than a cohesive and tactical unit, the Ivory Coast has disappointed for the entirety of the nation’s so called "golden generation." Might that have finally changed on Saturday night after Didier Drogba’s entrance changed the game? The former Chelsea striker and Ivorian hero entered to loud applause and in a mere instant changed the mood of his side – something that quickly flipped the scoreline.
City’s mercurial leader, Yaya Toure, struggled to dictate proceedings in the way he was expected to and questions remain about the team’s spirit and defensive ability, but as long as they’re led – whether from the bench or otherwise – by the proverbial soul of their country, the Ivory Coast remain dangerous in Group C.