An unmarked Mario Balotelli headed in the decisive strike against England to give four-time champions Italy an impressive 2-1 win in the heart of Amazon rain-forests but Uruguay were stunned 1-3 by Costa Rica on an action-packed day three of the World Cup in Manaus.
Read: Italy high on Balotelli's header, beat England 2-1 in gripping match
Mario Balotelli scores to take Italy up 2-1 vs England (AP photo)
The mercurial Balotelli headed in the decisive second goal in the 50th minute after Claudio Marchisio struck in the first half (35th minute) for the Azzurri in a gripping Group D contest. Daniel Sturridge had kept England in the match with a 37th minute goal on a busy day at the event which featured four matches.
First up, Columbia trounced former European champions Greece 3-0. Pablo Armero (5th minute), Teofilo Gutierrez (58th minute) and James Rodriguez (93rd minute) were the scorers for the Columbian team.
In other matches, two-time former champions Uruguay were shocked by Costa Rica, a team which had failed to qualify for the 2010 edition.
Read: Drogba inspires Ivory Coast to emphatic 2-1 win over Japan
Uruguay led through a penalty scored by Edinson Cavani in the 24th minute but Costa Rica turned it around magnificently in the second half to score an upset win.
Later, Ivory Coast got the better of Japan despite trailing 0-1 in the first half in the fourth and final match of the day. Ivory Coast headed in two goals, the quickest consecutive strikes in a World Cup match, within two minutes of inspirational veteran Didier Drogba taking the field as a replacement.
Ivory Coast's Gervinho (L) celebrates with teammate Didier Drogba after scoring a goal during their World Cup match against Japan at the Pernambuco arena in Recife. (Reuters Photo)
Wilfried Bony (64th minute) and Gervinho (66th minute) negated Keisuke Honda's first-half strike to give Ivory Coast the win.
But the big match of the day was undoubtedly between former champions Italy and England. Played in the heart of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil, the two teams beat the heat and humidity to dish out an engaging encounter.
The Italians lost skipper and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon hours before the start of the clash due to injury but did not allow the setback to affect their performance. Buffon's replacement, Salvatore Sirigu, was excellent under the bar and made some fine saves.
In a fascinating first half, Italy surged ahead on a set-piece goal in the 35th minute by Marchisio and England retaliated two minutes later through Daniel Sturridge, brilliantly fed by Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling.
England attacked relentlessly but it was young Balotelli, the hero of Italy's Qualifying campaign, who found the winner for the Azzurri early in the second half.
Read: Italy's midfield domination beat England, says Prandelli
He headed home a sumptuous pass from Antonio Candreva, five minutes into the second half and that proved decisive in the outcome.
England's failure to get the equaliser meant that they made a losing start to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years and remained winless against Italy in a competitive match since 1977.
The clash was a repeat of a 2012 European Championship quarterfinal between the two teams and the Italians prevailed yet again.
Rooney, who has been struggling while playing from the left, had a brilliant chance to equalise after getting a pass from Leighton Baines but he hit wide in the 62nd minute.
Italy kept England at bay for the remainder of the session to walk through with three points. Nevertheless, Sturridge and Sterling were outstanding for England.
England's forward Daniel Sturridge celebrates after scoring a goal during their World Cup match against Italy at the Amazonia Arena in Manaus. (AFP Photo)
Costa Rica's upset win over Uruguay early in the day in Fortaleza means that England now have an enormous challenge to advance to the second round from Group D, which is being touted as the group of death.
Uruguay badly missed star striker Luis Suarez as Costa Rica rallied from a goal down to stun the Copa America champions. Two goals in three minutes from Joel Campbell and Oscar Duarte rocked the Uruguay defence.
Read: Colombia shrug off Falcao absence to beat Greece 3-0 in Group C
Later, substitute Urena made it 3-1 for his side, capitalising on a pass from Campbell, minutes before the whistle.
In the Group C encolunter between Ivory Coast and Japan, Drogba's mere presence lifted his team, which trailed 0-1 in the first half.
The vetran came did not start the match but was eventually sent on the field little over an hour into the match.
The inspirational striker's mere presence helped lifted the side with Bony heading home the equaliser before Gervinho made it 2-1. Both the goal-scorers were fed by Serge Aurie.
In another Group C match in Belo Horizonte, Colombia made a grand return to the World Cup finals after 16 long years with a superb 3-0 win over Greece. It was their best ever result in World Cup finals.
At Manaus, both England and Italy played a skillful and engaging game from the start, and it was Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling, who took the first aim at the goal with a stunning shot from 25 yards after beating two men in midfield.
He almost pulled it off for the British side but the shot crashed into the side-netting.Read: Costa Rica upset Uruguay 3-1, Suarez looks on from bench
Consistent English raids put Italian defence under some pressure. Sterling created a chance as he charged from the left and sent a perfect cross but Danny Welbeck could not reach that.
Italy got their first corner in the 33rd minute and immediately struck with a sensational set-piece. Receiving from the right corner, Andrea Pirlo let the ball go through his legs towards Claudio Marchisio, who sent it into the net through the legs of both Wayne Rooney and Gary Cahill.
But Italy's joy was short-lived as two minutes later England levelled on counter attack. In a flowing move, Sterling sent the ball rolling from left towards Rooney, who had enough space to send a cross and Sturridge latched on the half volley to slam home the equaliser.
Italy regained the lead in the 50th minute when Antonio Candreva sent a pass to Balotelli, who nodded in easily.
England came close to getting equaliser but Rooney missed both the chances. In the 77th minute, England failed to capitalise on a free kick as Baines' brilliant shot over the wall and into the corner was spectacularly saved by Italian goalkeeper Sirigu.
In the dying moments, Andrea Pirlo's free-kick from right to left hit the crossbar.