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.
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.
England captain Steven Gerrard told BBC Sport: “They caused us a lot of problems down our left-hand side in the first half but we made tweaks at half-time and dealt with it better. We played most of the second half in their half.
“No matter what the result were tonight we’d need to beat Uruguay on Thursday. It’s certainly doable.
“We weren’t sure how much Italy would have improved from two years ago but they found an extra gear. However we matched them all the way.
“At this level it’s so cruel. You can try so hard and come away with nothing.
“It was a tough night. It was warm, sticky - it was a tough pitch - it was dry. But they’re excuses. Italy were very good.”