England will still get out of tough group, says Hodgson

ENGLAND manager Roy Hodgson is upbeat about his team's chances of reaching the World Cup knockout stages, following their performance in Saturday's defeat to Italy.

A second-half header from former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli earned Italy three points, after Daniel Sturridge had cancelled out Claudio Marchisio's earlier strike.

But England played much of the game on the front foot, with the pace of Danny Welbeck and trickery of Raheem Sterling in particular causing the Euro 2012 runners-up persistent problems.

Expected minnows Costa Rica beat Uruguay earlier in the day to blow Group D wide open and Hodgson is confident his team will have enough quality to advance based on what he saw against the Azzurri in Manaus.

"It was undoubtedly the best I have seen us play as a team in my time with them," said Hodgson, who succeeded Fabio Capello as manager in May 2012.

"I've got great confidence we can do well enough in the next games to qualify. We know we played against a good team, and to take them so close gives us great confidence that we can do well against Uruguay [on Thursday] and Costa Rica and still progress in the tournament.

"If you lose the first game you know you probably have got to win the next two, but the teams you're playing have to win too.

"You can't drift to qualification. Italy have had the very best start, as have Costa Rica, and we and Uruguay are on the back foot, but we now play Uruguay and Costa Rica, so at least our fate is in our hands."

Sterling, handed a central role behind lone striker Sturridge in order to occupy Italy's midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo, was among those who shone. But the 19-year-old's inclusion came at the expense of England's traditional talisman Wayne Rooney, who proved only fleetingly effective on the left flank and continued his unwanted record of having never scored at a World Cup.

He did, though, provide a fine cross for England's equalising goal and Hodgson insists he was happy with the Manchester United star's performance in an unfamiliar starting position.

"We wanted to get Raheem Sterling around Pirlo because of his agility and that meant moving Wayne Rooney, and I thought he did well," added Hodgson.

"He set up the goal and worked hard, and did well when we moved him into the centre. There is always going to be one player with a big debate around him, but I think it's harsh for people to criticise his performance because, for me, he played well."