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Why Always Him? Italy’s Balotelli Breaks England Hearts



Story of the Game

Both teams started brightly and the game took a surprisingly fast pace given the pre-match hype surrounding the sweltering heat. Raheem Sterling went agonisingly close early on with a long-range pile driver that rippled the side netting. I was not alone in celebrating wildly before realising the trick of the camera. Henderson also forced a good save out of Sirigu as England pushed for an early goal.

Italy grew more into proceedings and began to dominate possession. Darmian and Candreva down the right hand side saw a lot of the ball and were repeatedly causing problems with 2 on 1 situations. Pressure was building on England’s goal and they were struggling to get a foot-hold in the Italian half, so it was not against the run of play when the Azzurri took the lead on 35 minutes. A short corner on the right was then passed towards Andrea Pirlo who, rather than collecting the ball, sold a magnificent dummy and let it run to Marchisio. After taking a touch, the Italian rifled the ball home into Hart’s bottom right corner through the legs of a couple of defenders.

England’s response to going a goal down was highly commendable, levelling proceedings less than two minutes after going behind. Raheem Sterling picked the ball up in midfield and played a magnificent raking pass to Wayne Rooney which split the defence. After charging down the left, Rooney clipped over a cross to Daniel Sturridge who had pulled away at the back post. The Liverpool forward made no mistake from six yards out with a thunderous right foot finish. Wild celebrations ensued but unfortunately, England physio Gary Lewin was caught up in the throng and dislocated his ankle. Everyone wishes him a speedy recovery and hopes that his participation in Brazil is not over.

A late first half Italian flurry culminated in Jagielka being forced to head clear from under his own bar following a Balotelli chip. The second half began in much the same vein, with Italy having the majority of the ball and creating some openings, but England certainly looked dangerous on the break. 5 minutes after the interval, Candreva was found on the right flank once again and isolated Leighton Baines. Italy’s number 4 cut back inside onto his left foot and found Balotelli at the back post who had pulled away from Gary Cahill. Johnson was not there to cover and Mario had the relatively easy task of heading past Joe Hart from close range.

Again, England’s response was positive and they did not allow Italy to slow the pace of the game too much. Roy Hodgson brought on Barkley for Welbeck to try and add more invention to England’s attacks. It certainly did have an effect and several chances were carved out, the most glaring of which fell to Wayne Rooney but he dragged his shot agonisingly wide of the near post. While opportunities did fall England’s way, there wasn’t really a point in the second half where Italy had their backs to the wall. During injury time, the Italians won a free kick about 30 yards from England’s goal, and Andrea Pirlo sent a dipping and curving effort crashing onto the stationary Joe Hart’s cross bar. A timely reminder of his outstanding quality to come at the climax of proceedings in Manaus.

Although I feel a draw would have been a fair result, Italy were perhaps the side who posed a more constant threat and so England cannot be too unhappy with defeat. Plenty of positives can be taken from the game such as the impact of Raheem Sterling and an improving Danny Welbeck, but there are also many problems that need addressing. I think it is clear now that Rooney cannot play on the flanks, but is he playing well enough to justify a place in the middle? How can Hodgson provide more protection for his full-backs without losing out on the side’s attacking intent? These need resolving before the must-win clash against Uruguay.

England: Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines, Gerrard (capt), Henderson (Wilshere – 73’), Welbeck (Barkley – 61’), Sterling, Rooney, Sturridge (Lallana – 80’).

Italy: Sirigu, Darmian, Barzagli, Paletta, Chiellini, De Rossi, Pirlo (capt), Verratti (Motta – 57’), Marchisio, Candreva (Parolo – 79’), Balotelli (Immobile – 73’).
England vs Italy - Football tactics and formations

Player Ratings


1. Joe Hart – 7. Was not at fault for either goal conceded, and generally commanded his penalty area well. Had a slight misjudgement in the build up to Balotelli’s chip.

2. Glen Johnson – 5. Another poor performance to add to a catalogue of recent others. Clueless going forward and a lack of communication at the back cost England dearly.

5. Gary Cahill – 6. A fairly solid performance, and although England conceded twice, he couldn’t have really done anything more.

6. Phil Jagielka – 7. Dealt fairly well with Italy’s attacks and made a great clearance off the line from a Balotelli chip.

3. Leighton Baines – 4. Didn’t really provide a meaningful contribution in an attacking sense; not really looking to beat his man, and his corners were of a low quality. He wasn’t offered much defensive protection by his left midfielder, but didn’t cover himself in glory when Candreva provided the assist for the second goal.

14. Jordan Henderson – 6. Kept the ball reasonably well and was energetic in his play as always. Didn’t do anything particularly special and was sacrificed in the second half as England pushed for a goal.

4. Steven Gerrard – 5. Failed to influence the game to a great degree and his delivery from set pieces wasn’t quite up to his usual standard. Had plenty of possession but failed to inject the same pace or incision into the game as normal.

11. Danny Welbeck – 8. Having proved his fitness, he was handed a rather surprising start and performed above and beyond what many expected. Frequently stretched the Italian back line and chased back well to win possession on several occasions.

19. Raheem Sterling – 9. The brightest light in an England shirt, he more than justified his selection from the start. Flashes of brilliance were combined with a consistent performance throughout, and seemed to be the one player the Italian defence could not handle with confidence.

10. Wayne Rooney – 5. Another poor showing that’s only positive was the assist for Sturridge. Repeatedly caught out of position down England’s left and provided little protection for his full-back. His starting berth is now under serious pressure.

9. Daniel Sturridge – 7. Was a constant thorn in Italy’s side, with his pace and quick feet proving difficult to handle. Popped up with the goal for England that was by no means an easy finish.


21. Ross Barkley – 7. Made a difference when he came on and kept possession well in the attacking areas. Made a further case for a starting berth against Uruguay.

7. Jack Wilshere – 5. Brought on to try and break down Italy’s defence with clever passing but never threatened to do so. He ran down many a blind alley and failed to have a noticeable impact.

20. Adam Lallana – 6. Didn’t have much time to do anything to affect the result but his balance and quick feet won a couple of free kicks for England. A possible starter against Uruguay.


12. Salvatore Sirigu – 6. Made a couple of decent saves but primarily parried rather than catching them. Came to claim several of England’s corners.

4. Matteo Darmian – 8. Constantly pushing Leighton Baines back and providing crosses for Balotelli to attack. His defensive capabilities had been questioned prior to the game, but he more than answered his critics.

15. Andrea Barzagli – 6. Marshalled attacks fairly well but couldn’t stop plenty of shots raining down on Sirigu’s goal.

20. Gabriel Paletta – 5. Was turned plenty of times and often dragged out of position. The weakest member of the Italian back line.

3. Giorgio Chiellini – 7. A classically robust performance, making strong tackles and was never really shown up. Offered something going forward but nowhere near as much as Darmian.

16. Daniele De Rossi – 7. Broke up play well before either holding onto possession or shifting it quickly. Dropped back between the centre halves later on and helped to shore up the defence against an England onslaught.

21. Andrea Pirlo – 9. Another majestic display from possibly the best passer in world football. Played the game at walking pace and had important contributions in both of Italy’s goals.

23. Marco Verratti – 7. Added youth and mobility to the Italian midfield and popped up all over the park before being substituted.

8. Claudio Marchisio – 7. Scored the goal to set Italy on their way and also carried out a good job for the team by offering constant protection to his full-back.

6. Antonio Candreva – 9. Constantly had Baines on the ropes and England couldn’t find a way to counteract him. Assisted Balotelli’s goal with a wonderful run and cross and generally kept England pegged back all night.

9. Mario Balotelli – 7. Barring the goal, he did not do a great deal but his physicality kept Cahill and Jagielka on edge. A brilliantly improvised chip over Joe Hart was cleared off the line, and he was eventually brought off for Immobile.


5. Thiago Motta – 6. Was brought on to add a greater degree of control to proceedings and did help to achieve that. He kept possession well and was a reliable recipient of the ball during the time he was on.

17. Ciro Immobile – 5. Repeatedly caught offside which allowed England’s defence the opportunity to push further up the field. Posed less of a problem to Cahill and Jagielka than Balotelli.

18. Marco Parolo – 5. Not much of a noticeable contribution after entering proceedings, but didn’t let his side down either.


Man of the Match:

Although I was massively impressed with Raheem Sterling and how he was able to translate his form in a red shirt onto the international stage, I feel the Man of the Match should come from an Italian. Darmian’s marauding runs from right-back were used throughout by Italy as an ‘out ball’ and made Baines very fearful of coming forward. He reminded me of Cafu or Dani Alves in their prime, possessing seemingly boundless amounts of energy and almost always found in the position of a right midfielder without ever being caught out defensively. Andrea Pirlo was also highly impressive and performed to the same level that he has achieved on a consistent basis over the last few years. He played the game at such a slow pace, never rushed, always with time on the ball, and his passes were caressed into his team mates with staggering accuracy.

However, for the scale of impact on the outcome of the game, Antonio Candreva is my Man of the Match. Playing in a role where he was difficult to pick up by any individual defender, the Lazio winger was a scourge on England’s defensive unit. Right from the early stages, he would combine well with Darmian and the Italian central midfield to create space for himself and others to operate in. Close control was demonstrated to the highest degree and he was able to provide a problem for England in many different manners. Dropping off, putting in early crosses, and beating his man were all ways in which he posed a threat. It was this last method which led to Italy’s winning goal but his final ball was magnificent all night. If he is able to match that performance for the duration of the tournament, The Azzurri will be a threat to absolutely anyone.

I am currently at university studying Mechanical Engineering, but in my spare time I'm into all things football. I'm an avid Liverpool fan but always try to remain impartial. My other interests include gaming and Formula One.


Three Arsenal youngsters who could help England bring football home in 2022

The Gunners’ academy continues to develop some of the very best youngsters.



Photo: Getty Images

After a successful tournament got the nation dreaming, England fell at the penultimate at the World Cup and may require Arsenal‘s help in 2022.

Gareth Southgate’s youthful squad exceeded pre-tournament expectations and suddenly Greg Dyke’s objectives for the 2022 World Cup seem within grasp – and the Three Lions now have four years to build towards glory in Qatar.

Come November 2022, when FIFA has confirmed the World Cup will commence, Southgate is likely to call upon a number of the players who starred for the Three Lions in Russia but changes to his squad are also inevitable.

“The two targets I have for the England team are – one, to at least reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and two, win the World Cup in 2022.”

– FA Chairman Greg Dyke reveals his ambitious plan in 2013.

Fortunately, English football is breaming with exciting young talent at the moment and Arsenal may hold the key to success with three of their most highly-rated prospects.

Eddie Nketiah

Bursting onto the scene in November 2017, Eddie Nketiah became an instant hit at the Emirates Stadium after netting twice against Norwich City in the Carabao Cup. Since then, the 19-year-old forward has gone on to make three Premier League appearances.

Competition for places at Arsenal is fierce, particularly following the captures of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the past 12 months, which means he may have to be patient to get his chance – but the situation is entirely different on the international stage.

In four England U21 appearances, Nketiah has scored two goals, per TransferMarkt stats, following on from eight goals in eight games at U18 level and four goals in two games for the U17 side. In just over a year, Nketiah rose to Aidy Boothroyd’s U21 ranks from the U17’s and shows no signs of stopping his rise.

(Photo by Bertrand Langlois/Getty Images)

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Becoming a regular for Arsenal in Arsene Wenger’s final season at the Emirates Stadium, Ainsley Maitland-Niles showed his versatility by catching the eye playing as a full-back. His natural position is in midfield though and this is where he could be of value to England.

It is fair to say that England’s options in the middle of the park sitting in front of the defence are extremely limited, with neither Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier doing enough to cement their spot in the position for the long-term.

Maitland-Niles could become the man England are looking for in the coming years and further first-team experience with Arsenal looks set to follow under Unai Emery, as the 20-year-old penned a new long-term deal with the Gunners last month.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Reiss Nelson

Arsenal fans have been excited about 18-year-old Reiss Nelson for a while now and saw the teenager break into the fringes of the first-team last term, as Whoscored data shows he finished the campaign with 15 appearances across all competitions.

Eight of those opportunities came as a starter, including two in the Premier League, and there is every chance Nelson could earn further action under the guidance of Unai Emery next term – especially as Alex Iwobi has not done enough to warrant continued action.

Should the Nigeria international continue to suffer with poor form, the eight-cap England U19 international could be Arsenal’s breakthrough star of the year – following in the footsteps of players like Maitland-Niles, Jack Wilshere and Hector Bellerin.

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Who will bring football home? England’s predicted World Cup 2022 squad

Players from Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and even Bristol City feature.

Mathew Nash



England were desperately close to making it into the World Cup final, after defeat to Croatia in the semi-finals.

The Three Lions did however bring back some pride and promise from the long-suffering England fans.

With England also the World Under-17 and Under-20 Champions, the future is brighter than ever.

So who will be at the World Cup in 2022?

It seems impossible to guess four years in advance. Not many would have suggested the likes of Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire or Jesse Lingard four years ago.

(Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

The squad, hopefully, will not change much and the experienced players in the squad will likely still be around.

However, for the sake of the article and debate, anyone who will be over 30 in 2022 has been ignored. That leaves Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck in the cold, even if some of them will likely be present.

Eric Dier also got nudged out, as his form recently has been a concern and Nick Pope has been replaced.

So who makes the XI and the overall squad of 23?


Jordan Pickford

The Everton stopper cemented his place as England’s new number one during the quarter-final triumph over Sweden. Highly-rated by club and country and with excellent distribution it will be no surprise if he remains England’s first-choice in 2022.

(Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Jack Butland

What a deputy. The Stoke City goalkeeper could easily be our number one. The Potters relegation will hopefully not set him back and he should push Pickford for years to come.

Angus Gunn

The son of a Scotland international has so far rejected their international calls. Recently joined Southampton for £13.5 million and will hope to cement his place as a Premier League regular.

Honourable mentions: Nick Pope, Freddie Woodman, Dean Henderson.


John Stones

Despite one lapse of concentration which cost England crucially against Croatia the Manchester City man was excellent in Russia.

If he maintains a starting place at City and his career is not derailed, then Stones will be one of the leaders in Qatar.

Harry Maguire

Became a national hero this summer. A swashbuckling defender with an eye for a goal and a great meme. Should be a multi-cap England international.

Joe Gomez

Replacing Kyle Walker as the pace-man in a back three is Liverpool’s Gomez. If he can combat his recent injury troubles he will be a certain future England player. Remember how he shackled Neymar back in November.

Jamaal Lascelles

For many people, the Newcastle captain should have been in Russia ahead of Phil Jones or Gary Cahill.

Rightly so. A brilliant leader who would slot into a back three perfectly and deserves to be in the England fold for the next four years.

(during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St. James Park on April 15, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Dael Fry

The Middlesbrough defender is one inclusion that may cause derision. But this lad is extremely talented.

A reliable defender, good with the ball at his feet and a favourite at St George’s Park. Fry will hope to emerge as an England hopeful in the years to come.

Honourable mentions: Eric Dier, Alfie Mawson, Michael Keane, Ben Wilmot.


Trent Alexander-Arnold

Already in the England picture and shone v Belgium. Will likely play in the ¾ play-off this weekend. In four years he might be playing in the final.

Jonjoe Kenny

A tough call this but the Everton defender is like the Kieran Trippier to Alexander-Arnold’s Walker-like characteristics.

Whilst the Liverpool man has the pace and the power Kenny is more deliberate and his crossing is fantastic.

A favourite with the England youth management and the eventual successor to Seamus Coleman at Goodison Park.

Honourable mentions: Kyle Walker-Peters, Dujon Sterling, Steven Sessegnon.

Ryan Sessegnon

A shoe-in for 2022 if he remains fit and healthy. The Fulham star is perhaps England’s most exciting prospect.

He might even be considered an attacker by 2022 but for now, he would be an excellent left wing-back and will hopefully make his England bow this season.

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Joe Bryan

This might be the biggest swing and potential miss in the squad. The Bristol City star is wanted by a host of clubs this summer after his fantastic form at Ashton Gate.

But he is a hard-working and super-fit young man who, given the right opportunities, is easily capable of playing for his nation.

Honourable mentions: Lewis Gibson, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell


Lewis Cook

Absolutely adored by the England camp the Bournemouth man has already made his England debut. More positive in his passing than Jordan Henderson and more dynamic than Eric Dier, he is surely the future of England’s composed holding role.

Harry Winks

Set for a big break at Tottenham this season he has the potential to be an England star. If he can overcome his current injury trouble he would seem like being a shoe-in for 2022.

Phil Foden

England lacked a midfielder who could pick the locks of the Croatia defence in the semi-finals. This is the young man to do just that. The Manchester City youngster needs to break into the first-team fold but given what he has already achieved that should not be a problem.

(Photo credit should read DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

A lot depends on his next move, as Chelsea does not seem to be the right place for RLC to develop.

Showed in all his England performances that he is a talent to keep an eye on for the future and England will surely nurture him.

Dele Alli

May not have set the world alight in Russia, but the Tottenham star’s talent cannot be overlooked.

If he can get to the level he is capable of, then Alli is a 100-cap man with ease.

Jesse Lingard

Can he continue to prove people wrong for another four years?

Excellent at the World Cup and been in fine form for Manchester United. If he continues to progress in this way, then he should still be in the England set-up four years from now.

James Maddison

A tough choice considering the wealth of attacking midfield talent but the Leicester newbie seems the most likely to reach the levels necessary to play at a World Cup.

The £24 million talent can play a number of positions and is a special talent the Premier League will enjoy watching next term.

Honourable mentions: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish, Kieran Dowell,


Raheem Sterling

He divided opinion among some at this summer’s World Cup. But under the guidance of Pep Guardiola he will continue to improve.

Whether out wide or through the middle, England will surely stick by the attacker.

(Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Harry Kane

The nation’s current captain and front-runner for the Golden Boot award at this summer’s tournament it is hard to see how he won’t lead the line again in four years time.

If he keeps going at his current rate, Kane will surely take Wayne Rooney’s goal-scoring record for England.

Ademola Lookman

Some felt the Everton attacker was unlucky not to go this summer. After thriving on loan at RB Leipzig it seemed he might make a late lunge.

This summer is big for Lookman. He needs to decide where is best to carry on his career which could be key to a future England career.

Marcus Rashford

The Manchester United talent can surely only get better. If he can become a regular starter, wherever he happens to play his club football then the teenager will hope to secure a place in Qatar.

Honourable mentions: Dominic Solanke, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Eddie Nketiah.

Who did we miss? Can England bring football home in 2022?

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Three Everton players who could help England bring football home in 2022

Everton have a long list of top talents coming through that could make it into the England team.

Mathew Nash



England are out of the World Cup following defeat against Croatia in the semi-finals last night. But the future looks bright for England. They had the second youngest team in the tournament and are the current under-20 and under-17 World Champions.

So who could help them bring football home at Qatar 2022?

When looking at Everton’s current crop, it is hard to pick just one.

Ademola Lookman is an excellent attacker, although could be on his way. Callum Connolly’s versatility makes him a manager’s dream whilst Tom Davies had a brilliant 2016-17 season, even if last term was less impressive.

But here are the three Everton players who might have a chance of heading to Qatar in four years time.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Like England’s summer hero Harry Maguire the 21-year-old came through the ranks at Sheffield United. Since joining Everton his progress has been astonishing.

He is already a hero for England. He scored the winner for England’s under-20s last summer as they won the World Cup.

With striking positions set to be up for grabs in four years time, DCL will no doubt be in the running.

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Kieran Dowell

The spindly playmaker is adored in the England and Everton set-ups for his God-given natural talent.

Stormed into a loan spell at Nottingham Forest last season, which admittedly dwindled toward the end.

But with his dexterity and ability, only injury and himself could hold Dowell back from making it to Qatar.

(during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on October 29, 2017 in Leicester, England.

Jonjoe Kenny

Dowell’s best mate and England’s trusted right-back at youth level. His cross-city rival Trent Alexander-Arnold may be catching the eye but Kenny is no slouch.

An exquisite crosser of the ball and defensively sound he is the Trippier if Alexander-Arnold is the Walker of England’s future right-back choices.

Like Dowell, eligible for Ireland, so England, must ensure the Everton pair are aware of their pathway.

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