The heat and humidity of the jungle made its mark on the first World Cup match to be played in the Amazon rainforest, and so did Mario Balotelli.
With players from both sides slowing as the game wore on, it was the man with the mohawk that headed in the deciding goal early in the second half to give Italy a 2-1 win in Manaus, Brazil over England and a decided advantage in Group D.
“We won, but now let’s keep our feet on the ground, otherwise we’re not going anywhere,” said Balotelli, an often volatile and often brilliant striker who was nearly dropped from the starting lineup after struggling for AC Milan this season.
Balotelli lost his marker at the far post in the 50th minute, giving him plenty of space to head a cross from Antonio Candreva past goalkeeper Joe Hart for the winning goal.
“At times it felt like having hallucinations due to the heat,” Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio said.
Marchisio gave the four-time champions the lead with a long shot through a crowded area and past a diving Hart in the 35th minute. Daniel Sturridge equalized for England two minutes later, tapping in a cross from Wayne Rooney.
“We all need time to digest what happened on the field,” England coach Roy Hodgson said. “My gut feeling is that we did very good things. There were some very good individual performances.”
Both teams complained about the heat in Manaus, with Italy coach Cesare Prandelli questioning the decision to not have official timeouts during play.
“We had to slow down our pace to regain our breaths,” Prandelli said. “It was impossible to maintain the intensity.”
The choice of Manaus as a World Cup host city has been under scrutiny for years, mainly because of the weather conditions and the lack of a top football team in the city.
Costa Rica 3, Uruguay 1: Costa Rica came from behind to stun Uruguay Saturday at the World Cup, opening the tough Group D with a major upset in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Uruguay had to leave star striker Luis Suarez on the bench but went ahead when Edinson Cavani scored a penalty in the 24th minute. However, Costa Rica fought back after the break and lone striker Joel Campbell drove in a ball headed down by Celso Borges in the 54th to beat goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
Oscar Duarte dived past the outstretched foot of Uruguay’s Cristian Stuani to head in the winner for the Central Americans, and substitute Marcos Urena added the third with six minutes left, catching out Muslera to slot the ball in from a tight angle.
It was Costa Rica’s first World Cup victory since beating China in the group stage in 2002.
Colombia 3, Greece 0: Colombia started its first World Cup campaign in 16 years in dazzling fashion, beating Greece to open Group C on Saturday in front of a big, loud pro-Colombian crowd in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Left back Pablo Armero opened the scoring in the fifth minute when his deflected shot rolled past Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.
Striker Teofilo Gutierrez poked in Colombia’s second goal from a deflected corner in the 58th and James Rodriguez capped it off with a low shot in stoppage time after a slick backheel flick from Juan Cuadrado.
Colombia’s pace and trickery were too much for Greece to handle in the latter stages as the 57,174 crowd, most dressed in bright yellow shirts, constantly chanted “Ole, ole” at Estadio Mineriao.
Ivory Coast 2, Japan 1: Didier Drogba came off the bench to inspire Ivory Coast to a Group C comeback victory over Japan at Recife, Brazil.
Drogba, who had been carrying an injury, came on in the 62nd minute when his team was losing 1-0.
The talismanic striker’s arrival immediately lifted the Ivory Coast team and Wilfried Bony and Gervinho scored with headers two minutes apart. Both goals were set up by curling crosses from defender Serge Aurier.
Keisuke Honda’s first-half goal had given Japan the lead.