The key role played by Balotelli in England’s opening game loss

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Another major tournament and more disappointment from an England perspective, as Italy emerged victorious from their Group D opener after beating Roy Hodgson’s side 2-1 in Manaus.

Claudio Marchisio and Daniel Sturridge exchanged goals in the first half in an entertaining game before the familiar face of Mario Balotelli broke English hearts, as he lost Gary Cahill before latching onto a cross to net what proved to be the winning goal.

There have been many reports in the media suggesting Balotelli could, in fact, be back on his way to the Premier League, with Arsenal mooted as a potential destination. He did his cause no harm by besting the best the country has to offer on the grand stage of the World Cup.

There’s a growing belief that strikers need to be more than just goal-scorers, as they are expected to create, hold the ball up and defend from the front, but sometimes a forward needs to simply do their job in front of goal to have a successful game.

Balotelli had large spells of the game in which he was largely anonymous, especially when England had their periods of possession dominance. Defensive attributes are not something the controversial forward is renowned for.

He managed to make just one interception in the entire game and failed to attempt a tackle as his role remained to be purely the focal point of the attack, a job he did in fine fashion.

He ended the game with just the one goal, but that was not through a lack of trying. Balotelli attempted four shots over the course of the game, two of them hitting the target. One of these was a piece of genius, an impudent chip from an angle that required Phil Jagielka to be alert and head the ball off the line.

The AC Milan striker was also on hand to lay off one other chance for Italy as he spearheaded the Azzurri offence in impeccable fashion, and while not being the standout figure in the game despite scoring the winner, he was still a major part of Italy’s success.

He completed 84% of his passes to ensure that possession was not given away too frivolously when the ball did come forward. Balotelli misplaced just three passes in the entire match.

It is sometimes hard for Balotelli to stand out for Italy, especially when his role in the game is purely to score goals. He often finds himself removed from other parts of the game due to the formation played by the Azzurri.

His quality performance cannot be understated given that he scored the winner. Balotelli has proven his doubters, who suggested Ciro Immobile could replace him in the starting line up, wrong with a fine performance in which he maturely stuck to his role as an attacking outlet and left the haring about to his supporting cast.

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Sam Parker
Sam Parker is a graduate in sports journalism and freelancer, looking to break into the sports-writing industry on a full-time basis. He is a life-long fan of Tottenham Hotspur and has a major interest in Spanish football, alongside all other formats of the game.
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