England knew surviving a group with two other former World Cup champions would be tough, but the team never expected to be trailing Costa Rica after the opening games.
The small Central American nation with a minor World Cup pedigree came from behind to shock 2010 semifinalist Uruguay 3-1. Then Mario Balotelli — who else? — scored the decider for Italy in a 2-1 win over England.
If anything, it showed the value of special players at the World Cup. While Italy thrived with Balotelli on the pitch, Uruguay suffered with Luis Suarez sitting on the bench with a bad knee.
Uruguay was powerless for the last hour of the match against an underdog without marquee players, but with no fear of playing against traditional powers.
"What we take into the next games is confidence," said Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto.
For a third straight day, the World Cup in Brazil lived up to its samba billing as goals kept pouring in, with Colombia punishing Greece 3-0. Ivory Coast scored twice in two minutes for a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Japan to grab a share of the lead in Group C.
The leaden Amazon 30C (86F) heat in Manaus was supposed to stifle play, but Italy and England produced a display of attacking and tactical football.
Wily Andrea Pirlo, at 35, set up the first goal with a deft stepover to give Claudio Marchisio room for a long-range shot. In injury time, when players much younger than him had already come down with cramps, Pirlo sent a swerving free kick that hit the bar.
Balotelli undid the equalizer from Daniel Sturridge with a 50th minute header. Earlier, he almost scored from an extreme angle, getting the ball past goalie Joe Hart only to see Phil Jagielka head it off the line.
"We take our hats off to their skill," England coach Roy Hodgson said.
Italy now faces Costa Rica in its next match with another victory likely assuring it progress into the second round.
"We won but now let's keep our feet on the ground otherwise we're not going anywhere," said Balotelli.
After the Netherlands spectacular 5-1 rout of defending champion Spain on Friday, it was another day of football at its best.