Clinical display from Italy
Andrea Pirlo, Italy's shining light, was the 'Pirla' who destroyed England's dreams.
Yet despite the obsession with the man and the tactical ideas taken on board to limit his impact, nothing stopped the wizard from controlling the game and creating the plays to lead Italy to a 2-1 win over a determined England.
It was clear looking at the starting line-ups how each team would look to play the game. Italy with their two directors in midfield were looking to boss the game, keep position and maintain their composure -- striking only when they carved out the perfect opportunity. As for England, they yearned for proactive football and were determined to expose the lack of mobility and pace in Italy's defence.
With four attackers blessed with the ability to win back possession, dribble past players and pull off remarkable attacking passages of play, England were desperate for goals.
The game was balanced overall. Both teams had their strengths, both created excellent chances and both looked capable of ending the match with a win. However, the Italians had that extra bit that saw them guarantee a positive result.
That bit extra is their intelligence combined with the experience of always reaching the latter stages of such competitions. Their passes were accurate, the tempo controlled, Italy's aim was to maintain possession and then deliver perfect vertical passes forward to bypass the midfield and create problems for the English defence.
Players roamed to find pockets of space, positions were interchanged and opportunities were converted. However, the Azzurri were also made to suffer. While Roy Hodgson's men could count on a fit and healthy starting XI, Cesare Prandelli was left wondering as to how to solve his defensive problem. With Mattia De Sciglio injured, the Italians were left without a player who offers defensive solidity as well as the ability to push forward in attack.
Rather than asking Matteo Darmian to play on the left and take the chance on Ignazio Abate on the right (a player who offers pace going forward but suffers against it, almost always repeats his mistakes and lacks intelligence with his runs), Prandelli chose to field Gabriel Paletta in the middle and push Giorgio Chiellini wide, to play as a full-back. The results were none too pleasing.
Paletta had a terrible night, unaware of the dangers around him. He was overwhelmed and incapable of dealing with the blistering English attack. However, Chiellini was not much better. Unable to stay tight, he struggled to get back in time when England counter-attacked with pace and offered almost nothing going forward.
A fragile defence that looked capable of conceding several, Italy's attack also had its problems. Mario Balotelli was left looking isolated at the top and was not offered the necessary service to impact the game. He needed a teammate to help drag defenders out of position, to exchange passes with him in the final third before he struck the goal.
Yes despite all these problems, Italy prevailed as they tend to in important matches. Ruthless and cynical, this wasn't an Italian side that entertained with their usual brand of exciting football but one that understood the conditions and played a game that would allow them to reach the end in good physical condition. Thus they made the most of their set-pieces, benefited from England's inefficiency in front of goal and kept control of the ball to tire out the opponent.
As time wore on, the English began to feel the effects of the heat and the humidity as cramps began to disturb their game and disrupt their rhythm. Leading by one goal, the Azzurri did what they had to, sit back suffer and watch as the Three Lions attempted to penetrate. Exhaustion had robbed Hodgson's men of their pace and especially their precision while their forward movements grew predictable allowing Italian efficiency to triumph again.
England haven't beaten the Italians in a competitive match since 1977 nor have they prevailed in a World Cup tie -- the record is set to continue as the Peninsula celebrates this hard fought win.