How Italy's Victory over England Dramatically Shifted Their World Cup Odds

A classic performance against England this past weekend has sparked the surprisingly underrated Italy.

The pinnacle of the beautiful game is finally upon us, and boy were we treated to some highly entertaining opening World Cup matches. The hosts, Brazil, kicked off the competition with a controversial (albeit convincing) victory over Croatia. Meanwhile, the Netherlands and Costa Rica both shocked the world with their dominant performances over Spain and Uruguay respectively, and Colombia, not to be outdone, stated their case for world wide recognition with a very complete victory over Greece (not to mention their impressive, choreographed celebrations).

But there was also another marquee match between two football powerhouses that, while it may not have been as exciting or surprising as some of the others, still delivered it’s own thrills, and, more importantly, provided some clarity in a group that was expected to be one of the most competitive heading in to the tournament.

For the nation of Italy, the victory against England (coupled with a surprising loss from Uruguay) not only increased their odds of escaping the group from an original 33.39% to a now much more probable 75.32% (eighth-highest rate), but also bumped up their chances of making the quarterfinals as well. Previously, with a 10.44% chance, the Italian’s chances at making the quarterfinals didn’t look too good, and was actually the 19th-highest rate out of the 32 teams. Now, with a vital three points in hand, their odds increase to 29.13%, which is the 12th-highest rate. All told, the victory should prove to be one of the most important for any nation in the opening group stages.

In terms of their performance, Italy played much like the team we’ve grown accustomed to seeing - a team that prefers to play conservatively, but has the ability to adjust their game plan and play more attacking football if necessary.

They controlled possession (53% to England’s 47%), and, outside of allowing a quick-strike goal almost immediately after scoring themselves (which is often when teams give up goals), really didn’t allow England too many open chances at goal.

Making his World Cup debut, Mario Balotelli was as-advertised and his goal in the 50th minute proved to be the difference on the scoreboard. Outside of the goal, he was a menace, often drawing both English center backs Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka back in coverage as the team attempted several long balls into the enigmatic striker.

But is was a familiar face that emerged as the man of match for the Italians. More interesting than the “Most Interesting Man in the World”, Andrea Pirlo, as he’s done countless times for club and country, was the understated yet still dominating presence in midfield. Whether it was part of the plan tactically for Italy or England’s inability to deny him time and space, Pirlo was afforded plenty of time on the ball in a much more attacking position than he usually plays. This allowed him to dictate the flow of the game and use his pinpoint passing and movement off the ball to dominate possession and be the link between defense and attack.

His chief moment of brilliance came in the 35th minute where he played a beautiful “dummy” which allowed Marchisio to find the back of the net on a screamer for the team’s first goal. He doesn’t always get the assist, but when he does, he does it without touching the ball.

Apart from a brief lapse in defense, the performance was a fairly complete one for the Italians. If they can continue to be stout in defense, control the midfield under the majestic Pirlo, and get the ball to “Super Mario”, Italy should remain a force in this tournament.