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Italy beats England 2-1 in their Group D opener in Manaus
Costa Rica stuns Uruguay with 3-1 win in earlier match in group
Pablo Armero scores fastest goal of tournament as Colombia beats Greece
Ivory Coast comes from behind to beat Japan in other Group C game
Mario Balotelli’s headed goal early in the second half gave Italy a crucial 2-1 win over fellow European heavyweights England in their Group D opener in Manaus.
Continuing the pattern of a free-scoring World Cup, both sides created a flurry of chances in an open and attacking match despite the stifling heat and humidity of the Amazon jungle and a pitch of questionable quality.
England, inspired by 19-year-old Raheem Sterling, made a confident start to Saturday’s game with the Liverpool winger going close with an early snap shot.
But it was the Italians who went ahead as Andrea Pirlo’s dummy from a corner left Claudio Marchisio the chance to score with a rasping 35th-minute drive from outside the area.
Within two minutes England drew deservedly level as Daniel Sturridge converted from strike partner Wayne Rooney’s cross after the Manchester United star had been sent clear down the left by Sterling.
The eventual winner came five minutes after the break as the excellent Antonio Candreva was allowed to cross for Balotelli to head home at the far post from close range.
England pressed forward and created a number of half chances, the best of which fell to Rooney, who dragged his effort wide.
But Italy, which knocked England out of the 2012 European Championship in a quarterfinal penalty shootout, always carried a threat as well – and veteran playmaker Pirlo rattled Joe Hart’s crossbar with an injury-time free kick.
Italy coach Prandelli praised his midfielders for their role in a famous victory.
“I am clearly satisfied with this victory as this match against England was very difficult, they are a very good team,” Prandelli said. “We had a very good basis in midfield,” he added.
Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica
The win leaves Italy well placed to reach the last 16 after Costa Rica stunned South American champion Uruguay 3-1 in the earlier match in the group.
Uruguay, which kept recovering star player Luis Suarez on the bench in Fortaleza, ended the Group D opener with 10 men when Maxi Pereira was sent off for an ugly challenge in injury time.
Uruguay had looked set for a routine victory when Edinson Cavani fired in a 24th-minute penalty after Diego Lugano was hauled down.
But there was a complete reversal of fortunes after halftime as Joel Campbell drove home a spectacular 54th-minute equalizer.
Three minutes later Oscar Duarte stooped low to head the Costa Ricans ahead.
Liverpool’s Suarez, who had knee surgery ahead of the tournament, was still not risked by coach Oscar Tabarez despite the dire plight of his team and a sorry night was to get worse.
Campbell, on the books of Arsenal but yet to play a first team game for the English Premier League side, capped a fine performance by sending away substitute Marco Urena to score a late and clinching third.
Pereira then saw red in a moment of madness as he lunged at Campbell and will miss Uruguay’s second group match against England Thursday, which now takes on added importance for both teams after their opening setbacks.
Costa Rica’s Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto said Campbell had changed the course of the game.
“He’s a man who unsettles you, he surprises, changes the tempo, he was uncontainable for the Uruguay defense,” said Pinto.
Colombia 3-0 Greece
In Saturday’s first match, Colombia scored the fastest goal of the World Cup to date to set up a 3-0 victory against Greece in the opening game of Group C.
Pablo Armero’s deflected shot squeezed over the Greek line to give his team a fifth-minute lead in Belo Horizonte, and the South Americans doubled their advantage in the second half as striker Teofilo Gutierrez netted.
Gutierrez, leading the line in the absence of Colombia’s injured star forward Radamel Falcao, stabbed home at the far post in the 58th minute after a right-wing corner was flicked on.
Read: Live score updates from World Cup
Greece should have reduced the deficit, but veteran Theofanis Gekas headed against the crossbar from close range soon before he was substituted in the 64th minute.
Young midfielder James Rodriguez sealed Colombia’s victory in time added on, with a low shot that keeper Orestis Karnezis could only palm into the corner of the net.
Great things are expected of Rodriguez, who moved to big spending French club AS Monaco from Porto for $60 million before the start of last season.
He is nicknamed the “new kid” as he is seen as the natural successor to former Colombian legend Carlos Valderrama, whose nickname was ‘the kid” and starred for the national side at three straight World Cups until 1998.
Colombia, in the finals for the first time since Valderrama’s last appearance, is considered a dangerous outsider although the loss of Falcao is considered a major blow.
Falcao, a teammate of Rodriguez at Monaco, has not recovered in time from a serious knee injury but has joined his international teammates in Brazil to lend his support.
Greece has suffered six defeats in the last seven games at the World Cup and coach Fernando Santos said his side had been well beaten.
“They caused us a lot of problems from the opening minutes,” the 59-year-old told reporters.
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman was delighted with his side’s opening win.
“We were strong going forward, we had a nice style of play and we created several chances,” said the 64-year-old Argentine.
Ivory Coast 2-1 Japan
Colombia will next play an Ivory Coast team that came from behind to beat Japan in Saturday’s final match in Recife.
Japan took a 16th-minute lead through a superb strike by AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda, but the second-half introduction of veteran striker Didier Drogba helped inspire the African side to victory.
Soon after the 36-year-old came off the bench, fellow forward Wilfried Bony made up for several misses when he headed home Serge Aurier’s cross in the 64th minute.
The defender also delivered an assist for Gervinho two minutes later, as the Roma striker nodded in a near-post effort that Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima will be disappointed not to have saved.
It was the first time that the Ivorians had won their first game at a World Cup, and another victory on Thursday would make a historic first progression to the knockout stages possible.
Japan was the first team to qualify for Brazil, but now realistically needs to beat Greece to have a chance of reaching the last 16 – as the team did in South Africa four years ago.
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