Manaus, Brazil (SportsNetwork.com) - Italy turned out a professional performance at the Arena Amazonia on Saturday to get a 2-1 victory over England.
Claudio Marchisio's 35th-minute strike was canceled out by England's Daniel Sturridge within two minutes, but Mario Balotelli notched the go-ahead goal five minutes into the second half to restore the lead.
The Italians maintained a compact formation for the remainder of the match to deny the Three Lions many clear-cut scoring opportunities, riding Balotelli's game-winner to all three points.
"Our approach was clear: we don't have explosive players like England do. With that in mind, our aim was to make the most of our technical ability," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said after the match. "In the first half we had control of the game and on several occasions were able to get the ball to our attacking players between the two defensive lines. Of course we have good alternatives that can help us change our way of playing but, in general, that's our philosophy."
The win sees Italy go level with Costa Rica atop Group D, though Los Ticos hold the edge on goal difference.
It sets up a vital match on Thursday as England and Uruguay, level with zero points, will look to rebound from their respective defeats when they square off at the Arena Corinthians.
Saturday's affair started brightly for the Three Lions as they had the better of play in the early stages. They came within inches of taking the lead in the 24th minute when Danny Welbeck slid a low cross in front of goal, but Andrea Barzagli managed to turn the delivery out for corner, just out of the reach of the on-rushing Sturridge.
England would be left to rue that miss as Italy went in front with 10 minutes left in the opening period. A well-worked move saw Andrea Pirlo dummy a pass to the top of the box to take the defending Sturridge out of the equation, allowing Marchisio to hammer a shot that went through traffic and into the bottom corner of the net.
But England responded immediately, getting on level terms within two minutes of Marchisio's strike. Wayne Rooney found space on the left flank and delivered an inch-perfect cross to the back post where Sturridge was arriving to tuck home a first-time finish.
Balotelli almost restored Italy's lead in first-half stoppage time when he latched on to Pirlo's sublime through ball, drew goalkeeper Joe Hart off his line and chipped a shot toward goal on the turn, but Phil Jagielka was tracking back to clear the ball off the line and send the two sides into the halftime interval on equal footing.
The Italians would not be denied early in the second half, though. Antonio Candreva delivered an exquisite cross to the back post where Balotelli was able to elude Gary Cahill to nod his shot past Hart and put Prandelli's side back in front.
From that point on, Italy executed a clinic of how to close out a match, sitting back and allowing England to keep possession without handing the Three Lions many gilt-edged chances.
The Italians picked their spots go forward, exploiting England on the counter while placing emphasis on set pieces.
Pirlo nearly added to Italy's lead in stoppage time when he uncorked a dipping free kick that wrong-footed Hart but rattled the crossbar on its way out of play.
But even though the effort didn't end up in the back of the net, it was an impressive shot that encapsulated a pragmatic and professional outing from the four-time world champions.
England, meanwhile, exhibited a great deal of enthusiasm going forward, a far cry from the nation's dull performances in the 2010 World Cup.
Still, the Three Lions drop only their second World Cup opener since 1962, after a 1-0 loss to Portugal in 1986.
"It was a disappointing result," England manager Roy Hodgson said. "It's hard to look on the bright side when you lose - you need time to let it sink in. My first impression is that we did some things very well and had some good individual performances, but unfortunately we conceded that second goal. Even after that we had chances to score, but we couldn't manage it.
"That said, I know my players gave their all and, who knows, next time those same chances might end up in the net. If we can play like that in the next two games I think we have a good chance of getting good results. It must be said too that our young lads all played very well and I can only take positives from the game, with the exception of the result of course."