Italy had not won since September heading into their World Cup curtain-raiser against England, but left the Arena da Amazonia with all three points with a professional performance.
Claudio Marchisio opened the scoring for Cesare Prandelli’s side after 35 minutes with a powerful daisy-cutter from distance, only for Daniel Sturridge to equalise moments later.
After a pair of near-misses just before half-time, Mario Balotelli found the winner for Italy just on the other side of the break with a header at the far post from Antonio Candreva’s sumptuous cross.
Costa Rica’s shock 3-1 victory against Uruguay earlier on Saturday means the Central American minnows top Group D with a superior goal difference to the Azzurri.
Italy Player Ratings
Salvatore Sirigu: 7
Italian hearts dropped when talismanic captain Gianluigi Buffon was ruled out with an ankle injury. But Sirigu made several superb saves in his stead to keep England at bay and avoid a repeat of Federico Marchetti’s disastrous stand-in display in South Africa four years ago.
Matteo Darmian: 8
A breakout star at Torino last season, Darmian turned in an emphatic display and was only of Italy’s best players on the pitch. Always an outlet on the right and gave Leighton Baines fits with his overlapping runs.
Andrea Barzagli: 6.5
Dominated in the air and made several crucial interceptions. Nervy early on but grew in stature to compensate for his struggling central defence partner.
Gabriel Paletta: 4.5
The ex-Liverpool man looked every bit the Anfield flop of eight years ago instead of the dominant force he had recently become at Parma. Lacked composure and failed to mark Sturridge on his equaliser.
Giorgio Chiellini: 5.5
The Juventus centre-back once declared that he is ‘hardly Roberto Carlos at left-back’ and it showed. Caught out too often by the pace of Glen Johnson and Danny Welbeck, but put his body on the line as Italy defended their lead late to aid the cause.
Daniele De Rossi: 6
Uncharacteristically gave the ball away a few times in the opening exchanges. Experience and guile eventually came to the fore as he attacked England’s ball-carriers constantly in the second half.
Antonio Candreva: 7
Worked well with Darmian down the right flank and was very energetic. Wasteful with several crosses and long-distance shots, but provided a brilliant ball for Balotelli’s winner to leave his mark.
Marco Verratti: 6
Quite tidy in possession, misplacing just two of 63 total passes in 57 minutes of work. Helped facilitate Italy’s superiority in midfield. Credited with the assist on Marchisio’s opener.
Andrea Pirlo: 7.5
Ran the show in the centre of the park, taking 117 touches and completing 95% of his passes. His sublime dummy gave Marchisio the space to open Italy’s account. Nearly bagged a goal of his own late on with a swerving free-kick that cracked off the crossbar.
Claudio Marchisio: 7
The engine in the Italy midfield as always. Covered vast swaths of ground, moving out wide, dropping back and pushing forward as the situation called for. Showed poise and class to beat Joe Hart from distance.
Mario Balotelli: 7
Looked isolated most of the first half, until his lobbed effort was cleared off the line on the stroke of half-time by Phil Jagielka. Proved the hero with the winning goal and held the ball up well for Italy before coming off on 73 minutes.
Thiago Motta: 6
Provided extra solidity in midfield for the final 33 minutes. Won the foul for Pirlo’s late free-kick. Completed 100% of his passes.
Ciro Immobile: 6
Made sure Jagielka and Gary Cahill had to stay alert with some incisive runs after replacing Balotelli in the 73rd minute.
Marco Parolo: 5.5
Wasn’t terribly involved in the final 10 minutes, but played his role in Italy holding out for the win.