ENGLAND put on a thrilling display of attacking football, but they emerged from their trek into the jungle with a 2-1 defeat in their World Cup opener thanks to Mario Balotelli's winner in the draining heat of Manaus.

Balotelli scored the decisive goal for the Azzurri five minutes into the second half after Daniel Sturridge had cancelled out a Claudio Marchisio effort.

At times England were simply breath-taking on the attack. Raheem Sterling, making just his third England start, wowed the crowds inside the Arena Amazonia with his quick thinking and even quicker feet.

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Sterling, Danny Welbeck and Jordan Henderson all went close in the first half as a bold, young and bright England went for Italy from the first whistle.

Roy Hodgson's men also had two good penalty shouts turned down and their passing, until the last 10 minutes, was incredibly fluent.

But defensive shortcomings cost the team again. Marchisio was, inexplicably, left unmarked and he took full advantage by driving Italy ahead from outside the box.

And then Gary Cahill lost Balotelli at the back post to put Italy ahead for a second time - after Sturridge had equalised following a brilliant England counter-attack.

Wayne Rooney's critics will also be given further ammunition after he missed two good chances.

Any snap conclusions should not be made about England's fate. Their World Cup is not over just yet, especially with Costa Rica having beaten Uruguay in the other Group D fixture earlier on Saturday.

But the Three Lions will have to sharpen up at the back fast - particularly with Luis Suarez due to appear against Hodgson's side on Thursday in Sao Paulo.

Afterwards Steven Gerrard said: "The chances were there, we created them, maybe we've got to look at finishing a few more of them off.

"Still disappointed to come away with no points. The challenge is much more difficult, but it's do-able.

"The effort, the desire and the commitment was there, but we were lacking in quality in the final third."

"Italy were a very good team tonight and we fell a bit short."

Manager Roy Hodgson said: "We played well but we played against a very good team as well."

Next up Uruguay!