England 1 Italy 2: Cesare Prandelli says Three Lions are "one of the strongest" teams at the World Cup after victory in Manaus

Azzurri boss hails transformed Three Lions who have ditched long balls

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The Independent Football

England have become one of the best teams at the World Cup, according to Italy manager Cesare Prandelli.

Prandelli, who saw his team defeat the Three Lions in their Group D opener in Manaus 2-1, also said England have developed from the days when they "relied on long balls".

Claudio Marchisio opened the scoring for the Azzurri, lashing a shot past Joe Hart from outside the area. Daniel Sturridge equalised two minutes later, turning in a Wayne Rooney cross after a brilliant Raheem Sterling through-ball, before Mario Balotelli nodded in the winner from Antonio Candreva's cross.

"It was an epic match and I feel that England is one of the strongest teams in the World Cup," said Prandelli.

"They have changed a lot, and I am so satisfied. We played a great game."

England had chances and looked dangerous on the front foot but were often found wanting in defence.

"We don't have players who are as powerful as England's but we have technically skilled players, and in the first half we had better ball possession," added the Italy boss.

"Until just a few years ago, England relied on long balls but they are now a skilled team with excellent triangular passing."

He also said it was "crazy" that the game didn't have any drinks breaks in the intense heat of the jungle city. According to FIFA, it was 30C inside the stadium with humidity at 61 per cent.

"We suffered, but the response of the players to the conditions was extraordinary," he said.

Goalscorer Marchisio added: "At times it felt like having hallucinations due to the heat."

Italy's match-winner, Mario Balotelli, said: "This was a very difficult (game) because England are a good team and there was the climate as well. Mario-Balotelli.jpg

"Italy suffer, they always suffer, but the important thing is to win.

"Now we have to keep our feet on the ground and just focus on each game that comes."

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