Claudio Marchisio had given the Italians a 35th minute lead with a rasping low drive into the bottom corner but Daniel Sturridge converted Wayne Rooney's deep cross to the back post just two minutes later to equalise.

Just five minutes into the second period, Balotelli headed home Antonio Candreva's cross from close range.

The result leaves England in a desperate situation ahead of their next match against Uruguay, who earlier were stunned 3-1 by Costa Rica, in Sao Paulo on June 19.

Neither side can afford to lose that match and even a draw would leave them perhaps relying on other results to get through to the last 16.

"Italy were a very good team tonight and we fell a bit short," said England captain Steven Gerrard.

"But we're still very much alive in this group."

Italy were worthy winners with Andrea Pirlo almost putting some gloss on the result deep into injury time with a free-kick that crashed back off the bar.

England's performance was full of flair and and an immeasureable improvement on their dire quarter-final defeat to the same opponents at Euro 2012 on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

But they still have not beaten Italy since 1977 and the difference between the two sides was Italy's clinical use of the ball in the final third.