MANAUS Brazil (Reuters) - England manager Roy Hodgson found it hard to take losing to Italy in their opening World Cup game on Saturday after what he called the best performance of his two years in charge of the team.
Italy won the Group D clash 2-1 thanks to a 50th-minute winner from Mario Balotelli after England were unable to turn their second-half dominance into an equalizer.
"It’s always difficult when you lose a game to take the positives. Even when it was 2-1, I thought we’d get back into it and go on to win it because it was quite a dominant second-half performance," Hodgson told reporters.
"The only positive I can take is that it was undoubtedly the best I’ve seen the team play during my time with them," said Hodgson who took over as England manager two years ago.
Costa Rica beat Uruguay 3-1 in the group's opening game and Hodgson believes his team still have every chance to progress to the last 16.
"Of course we can still qualify. We’re a bit downhearted at the moment, a bit sad that the game didn’t go our way – we were hoping for a perfect start but we don’t live in a perfect world," he said.
"I’ve got great confidence that we can do well enough in the next two games to qualify and I’m sure the players will get that when they get over this disappointment."
Hodgson was pleased with the way his team restricted Italy's attack but frustrated at his players' inability to deliver precise final passes.
“It’s a bit tough to accept that we lost the game, especially considering there were so few shots on our goal in the second half," he said.
"(Goalkeeper) Joe Hart had a pretty quiet evening really and yet we find ourselves having lost. 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 and Costa Rica and still progress in the tournament.
"Our final ball was a bit disappointing today – we’re better than that. I thought especially towards the end when we were desperate for that goal I thought there were several situations where we were in good crossing or shooting positions and we didn’t take advantage of it and that’s something we need to work on.
"But we are a young team and this is the first World Cup for almost two thirds of the team so I think this is something we will improve upon going forward," he said.
Hodgson singled out Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck for praise for their lively contributions to England's attacks.
"It’s very good to know that we have so many players who will help us become a much better team going forward,” he said.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond)