An England soccer fan reacts as he watches his team play against Italy during the 2014 World Cup at a bar in central London. Photo: Neil Hall


London - Britain's famously raucous press held off on Sunday from delivering the torrent of vitriol that usually follows an England tournament defeat, finding optimism in a “thrilling” World Cup encounter with Italy.

Though Roy Hodgson's side lost Saturday's match in 2-1, the newspapers found England's attacking verve in Manaus a refreshing change and a source of optimism.

“For England, this was a strange kind of World Cup defeat,” wrote Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail.

“This time there will be few recriminations, no grand inquest, little soul-searching, no official or lay examination of what is rotten in our game.

“England played well, but lost. Went for it, but lost. Had many of the best chances, but lost. That happens in football and we'll live with it.”

He said the story of England's World Cup journey in Brazil might be that they beat the average teams, but fall short defensively against the best.

“One senses that, deep down, Hodgson knows it, too,” he wrote.

The Sunday Times said England had lost a “battle of age and culture”.

“Italy were a dish too hot and a gang too cool for England,” wrote Jonathan Northcroft.

“England were beaten but should stay emboldened, for Hodgson's decision to start with youngsters such as Raheem Sterling and bring Ross Barkley off the bench pushed Italy all the way.

“This was the most thrilling, high-quality and engrossing encounter England have played at a World Cup since their exit to Argentina at the 1998 finals in France.”

The Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter wrote that England had taken a step towards a more sophisticated era.

“England have been to too many tournaments and been lifeless, fearful and gone home early,” he wrote.

“England may be thrown out of this magnificent World Cup party prematurely but at least they are having a go, playing with a zest not seen in more sterile recent tournaments. England lost a game but gained some friends.”

The Observer's Daniel Taylor said England played as if they wanted to establish an entirely new reputation in one night.

“When the disappointment is not so raw, Roy Hodgson will probably be entitled to take great encouragement from the way his new-look team contributed to a night of vibrant attacking football,” he wrote.

“Yet the sense of anguish is considerable, bearing in mind they have lost their opening match and the path out of Group D looks increasingly hazardous.”

BBC Sport's chief football writer Phil McNulty said if England could repeat their performance against Italy and address their defensive difficulties, they could definitely qualify from the group stage.

“Uruguay looked vulnerable once Costa Rica got into their stride and they showed nothing to hold terrors for England provided they take care of their own business,” he wrote.

“Life is now tough for England - but not impossible.” - Sapa-AFP