The Liverpool man led the line for his country and canceled out Claudio Marchisio's opener before Mario Balotelli netted the winner, but the Three Lions left the field with plenty of pride diluting the obvious disappointment.
So who was good and who was bad? Goal examines how each player will have affected Roy Hodgson's thinking ahead of a must-win game against Uruguay ...
RAHEEM STERLING & ROSS BARKLEY
The inclusion of Liverpool youngster Sterling was something of a surprise, with Southampton star Adam Lallana touted for a starting berth ahead of the game.
But Hodgson's faith was almost immediately rewarded as Sterling hammered a fine swerving drive narrowly past the post from over 30 yards.
Sterling was a threat throughout, his neat footwork and nimble balance distracting Giorgio Chiellini & Co. for the full 90 minutes.
Ross Barkley's impact was almost as thrilling as he tested Salvatore Sirigu within minutes of his second-half arrival with a fine curled effort from the edge of the area.
Hodgson has spoken previously of how he hopes the inclusion of such raw talents as the Everton youngster will give England another edge and element of surprise, and Barkley looked to prove his coach right with a number of incisive runs and continually looked to open up play.
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The Liverpool man was trusted by Hodgson to lead the line for England at the World Cup — pushing Wayne Rooney to the left — and looked every bit the lone frontman.
Apart from taking advantage of a fine Rooney cross to level the scores in the first half, Sturridge did well to bring midfield players into the game — which is evidently crucial to Hodgson's attacking setup.
It was, however, of concern that the striker appeared to be hobbling when withdrawn 10 minutes from time. Sturridge will be key to England's chances in Brazil and, if fully fit, looks likely to improve his tally of five goals in his last nine outings.
For the first time in living memory, England entered a tournament with little-to-no expectation of reaching the latter stages of the World Cup, let alone be crowned the winner.
Steven Gerrard acknowledged after the game that England was criticized for its negative approach four years ago and now hopes the more exciting brand of soccer under Hodgson would bring more enthusiasm from the fans — and if Saturday night is anything to go by, he will not be disappointed.
There is now genuine hope for England going forward, not necessarily in Brazil but perhaps when the next European Championship rolls around in two years' time. But, for now, optimism has improved, oddly, following the loss.
The striker, playing on the left of a supporting attacking midfield three, struggled to make an impact for the majority of the first half.
Rooney did provide a fine cross for Daniel Sturridge's equalizer — but that proved the only remotely bright moment in a game that seemed to pass him by.
On the hour mark, Rooney found himself 10 yards from goal with a golden chance to equalize, but could only flash his shot wide. He capped off a largely frustrating night by hitting a corner straight out of play.
Hodgson, however, defended the striker after the game, insisting those criticizing his performance were "looking" for negatives.
Even after missing out on a place in England's squad, the left back still can't afford a wry smile. The performance of Leighton Baines reminded fans, and possibly Hodgson, of the Chelsea man's absent ability.
Rio Ferdinand, acting as a pundit for the BBC, said after the game that he still considers Cole to be one of the best left backs in the world and, with Italy enjoying continued success down England's left flank throughout the game, supporters might have realized they miss the veteran defender more than they thought.
Antonio Candreva, playing on the right flank, was the star of the show for the Azzurri, and capped his performance with a beautifully lofted cross — after getting the better of Baines — for Mario Balotelli to head home the winner.
With the even more inexperienced Luke Shaw as backup, England's defensive options appear lacking if it qualifies out of Group D and into the latter stages of the tournament.
ENGLAND'S DEFENSE AS A WHOLE
Glen Johnson, on the opposite flank, did not fair much better. While his attacking mindset was welcome in the early stages of the game as England looked to come out of the traps fastest, his questionable defensive abilities were stretched as the game wore on.
While Baines could be forgiven, in part, for mistakes due to Rooney leaving him overloaded by both Candreva and Matteo Darmian, the Liverpool right back let himself down with sloppy positioning.
In the center, Phil Jagielka again helped his burgeoning reputation on the international scene with a solid performance capped off with a fine, instinctive headed off-the-line clearance from a Balotelli chip.
His partner, though, was outdone by the AC Milan man for Italy's winner as Gary Cahill, not for the first time, was guilty of leaving space in the back and was beaten in the air by striker.
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