MANAUS, Brazil: Mario Balotelli scored the winner as Italy beat England 2-1 in their World Cup duel in the Amazon on Saturday, while Costa Rica provided a major shock with an upset win over Uruguay.
AC Milan striker Balotelli nodded past former Manchester City teammate Joe Hart on 50 minutes to decide the tense Group D encounter at Manaus’s sweltering Amazonia Arena.
Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio had fired the Azzurri into a deserved lead on 35 minutes, rifling home a low shot from outside the area after a well-worked corner routine wrong-footed the English defense.
England struck back with a fine goal on the counter-attack. Raheem Sterling released Wayne Rooney down the left and the Manchester United star’s cross was buried by Daniel Sturridge.
The Italian victory leaves Cesare Prandelli’s side in pole qualifying position from Group D.
The only blot on a satisfying day for Italy was the absence of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was ruled out of the England match hours before kick-off with a twisted ankle.
England now faces Uruguay in Sao Paulo next Thursday with the loser of that contest facing almost certain elimination.
“It’s disappointing, we put so much effort into it,” said England captain Steven Gerrard after.
“Italy were a very good team tonight and we fell a bit short. But we’re still very much alive in this group,” he added.
Italy manager Prandelli offered words of encouragement for the vanquished English.
“They have one of the strongest attacks at the World Cup,” he said.
“That’s why I am satisfied because we played a really great team.”
South American champions Uruguay’s campaign got off to a disastrous start earlier when they were beaten 3-1 by Costa Rica at the Castelao Stadium in Forteleza. That came just 24 hours after the Netherlands humiliated reigning champions Spain 5-1 in Salvador.
Uruguay, despite being without star striker Luis Suarez, looked to be on the way to all three points in the Group D opener after Edinson Cavani’s first half spot-kick put them ahead.
But Costa Rica brilliantly recovered with three second half goals to take the game and go top of Group D on goal difference.
Two goals in three minutes from Joel Campbell and Oscar Duarte put the Central Americans ahead before substitute Marcos Urena added a late third.
Uruguay’s Maxi Pereira was sent off in injury time.
Costa Rica now play four-time world champions Italy in Recife next Friday.
Earlier, stylish Colombia shrugged off the absence through injury of star striker Radamel Falcao to hammer Greece 3-0 in Group C.
With Falcao watching from the stands, his Monaco team-mate James Rodriguez emerged as the star of the match, scoring one and setting up another for Teofile Gutierrez. Pablo Armero was Colombia’s other scorer.