Italy made the best possible start to their World Cup campaign with a 2-1 win over England in Manaus last night. Claudio Marchisio got the ball rolling for the Azzurri by firing in the first goal, while Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Andrea Pirlo also put in excellent performances.
The Rumble in the Jungle may well have finished 3-1 if a wicked free kick from the much-applauded Pirlo had dropped just a few centimetres lower...
In a match made even more testing by the searing temperatures and equatorial humidity, it was our own Little Prince who gave Cesare Prandelli's side the lead. A smart dummy by Pirlo afforded him the time to control the ball and arrow a vicious drive through a crowded box into the opposite corner beyond Joe Hart's reach - his second goal in as many games following his strike in Italy's pre-World Cup friendly Luxembourg. Marchisio's international goal tally now stands at five, with the last three all coming in the month of June (the other was against Haiti in 2013). Only Rooney (three) created more goalscoring chances than Claudio (two) last night.
Directing the orchestra in midfield was of course Maestro Pirlo, who celebrated his 110th cap with the captain's armband. He is now just two shy of Dino Zoff in Italy's all-time appearance standings. The Juve and Azzurri playmaker was given a superb reception by the Brazilian fans and he didn't disappoint: he completed 108 passes yesterday (a record at this year's World Cup so far), with 22 of those coming in the final third (the highest of the game).
Further back, Chiellini and Barzagli were magnificent in the Azzurri rearguard. Giorgio, making his 69th appearance in an Italy shirt, made the most tackles (five) and defensive headers (three), and also recovered the most balls (nine) in yesterday's Group D encounter.
Barzagli earned his 48th Azzurri cap against England, his third at World Cup finals following the two games he played in 2006. Of the players who started the match, he had the highest pass completion rate (98%) and also equalled his Bianconeri team-mate for most tackles (three).
Gianluigi Buffon and Leonardo Bonucci, the other two Juventus players in Prandelli's World Cup squad, were not used last night.