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Jun 14, 2014

Five Aside: Italy's night

2014 FIFA World Cup Group D: England 1-2 Italy

Italy began its quest for a record-tying fifth World Cup title with a 2-1 win over England in Saturday's opening match in Manaus. Mario Balotelli's first-career World Cup goal sealed the victory for Italy, a header following Antonio Candreva's cross early in the second half.

The match started wide open with each team feeling out the other's defenses. The first breakthrough came in the 35th minute, on a right-footed shot into the left corner by Claudio Marchisio, putting Italy up 1-0. The lead was short-lived, as England's Daniel Sturridge would strike just 2 minutes and 36 seconds later to even the score.

EnglandEngland
ItalyItaly
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Match 8
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Despite the score being tied, it felt as if the Italians had the match under their control. The Azzurri completed 92.6 percent of their passes in the first 45 minutes, the highest completion percentage by a country in a World Cup half since 1966 (when such data became available). Italian legend Andrea Pirlo controlled play, completing 67 of his 70 passes (95.7 percent) in the first half. Italy was also on the attack far more often than their English counterparts; at halftime Italy had completed 172 passes in the attacking half, twice as many as England's 86.

Balotelli's goal was decisive.

After the first half hour of play, Italy began to push forward more and create better chances. After completing just one pass into the attacking box in the first 30 minutes, they completed eight of 14 such pass attempts in the final 60 minutes, creating five chances. One of those chances proved to be the game winner, when Candreva found Balotelli in the 50th minute on a cross which put Italy up 2-1, a lead they would not relinquish. It was the only cross Italy would complete the entire match. On the opposite end, England completed just 1 of 25 crosses (4 percent), their worst cross completion percentage ever in a World Cup match.

When the dust settled after the two opening matches, Group D had been flipped on its head. At the start of the match day, Uruguay (65.2 percent) and England (63.3 percent) had the best chances of advancing to the knockout stage, according to SPI, while Italy (45.3 percent) and Costa Rica (26.3 percent) were below. Following Costa Rica's stunning performance and Italy's victory over England, SPI now gives Italy (73.6 percent) and Costa Rica (66 percent) the best chances of advancing through Group D.