England welcomed Italy to Wembley for the second in their double-header of high-profile friendlies. The Three Lions edged out a narrow win over Holland last week, while the Azzurri were defeated by Argentina. Italy missed out on World Cup qualification, but they remain a hugely talented team that promised to give England a challenge.
Italy look the brighter side during the early exchanges
The atmosphere in side Wembley was electric at kick-off but the England faithful were almost stunned into silence immediately when Ciro Immobile went through on goal after a simple over the top ball. Thankfully John Stones got back quickly enough to clear up, but the early chance was a warning sign for Gareth Southgate’s defenders. The Manchester City centre half didn’t seem to learn his lesson however and a mistake on the ball just moments later handed the Italian striker another chance. Stones was ultimately able to make another last-ditch tackle to atone for his error but it was a shaky start from the 23-year old.
The visitors did well to press and pin England back into their own half during the early exchanges, not allowing the wingbacks to get forward as much as they had against Holland. The Three Lions did look a threat on the break however, especially with the pace of Jamie Vardy, and the striker almost manufactured a goal for himself but for a brilliant challenge by Mattia De Sciglio. The best chance of the first 20 minutes fell to Immobile however after a sensational cross from Antonio Candreva, but the Lazio striker couldn’t guide his close-range header under the crossbar.
Vardy slams in a cheeky opener
Whenever England were in possession the tempo of the play was incredibly slow, contributing to a muted atmosphere inside the stadium after the home side’s disappointing start. They did almost have something to cheer about however after Raheem Sterling slipped Vardy through with a smart pass, but the forward’s effort was tame and barely troubled Gianluigi Donnarumma.
The Leicester man made no mistake a few moments later however as he slammed a wonderful finish into the top corner in slightly controversial circumstances. Jesse Lingard took an intelligent quick free-kick to put the striker through, catching the Italians off guard and allowing Vardy to hand England a slightly undeserved lead. The referee allowed the goal, despite the protests of the visitors, and Southgate’s men finally began to play with some confidence.
The home side began to see much more of the ball and spend more time in Italy’s half following the goal, probing the Azzurri’s back line with pace and direct running. Another darting move from Raheem Sterling set up Ashley Young, but the wing back dragged his shot just wide of the far post. In truth it was all the visitors could do to make sure they went into the break with just a one-goal deficit, but they did manage to hang on for the half-time whistle.
England keep control of the game
In the early minutes of the second period England looked incredibly comfortable in possession, knocking the ball around quickly in midfield and biding their time as they looked to open up the Italian defence and add to their lead. While chances were few and far between for either side, Southgate’s men looked hungrier and their passing play was exemplary. The wing backs were able to exploit the wide areas far more than they had been able to before the break, which in turn created more space for the likes of Jesse Lingard and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the more central areas.
Ashley Young had the first real chance of the second half after a slippery run down the left channel, but his shot was blocked at the last second. The opportunity did buoy the Wembley crowd however and the introduction of Adam Lallana changed the tempo of the game slightly, allowing England to increase the dynamism of their attacks. A couple of long-range efforts tested Donnarumma, but the Italians dealt well with the pressure for the most part, though creating little of their own in an attacking sense.
VAR hands Italy a late equaliser
After the hour mark Southgate began to make a whole host of changes to experiment with the squad, though none of the interruptions disrupted the flow of England’s attacking play, which remained quick and bright. Marcus Rashford in particular looked sharp after his introduction from the bench and his direct approach helped to lift the crowd. It was actually the visitors who had the best chance after the changes however as Lorenzo Insigne volleyed a tight-angled effort inches wide of the far post, reminding England that their lead was indeed narrow.
In the final minutes Italy began to press fairly fervently for an equaliser, with Insigne seeing a lot of the ball. It was actually Federico Chiesa who eventually made something happen for the visitors, though it took a few minutes for that to be decided. The winger went down under what looked like very little contact from James Tarkowski, but the referee consulted with VAR and awarded a penalty. Insigne stepped up and coolly slotted the spot kick away into the far left corner of the net. In the end that was to be the final twist in this game as neither side could muster a winner, despite the raised tempo and tempers in the final seconds.
In truth this was a disappointing result for England, especially as they were in front for so much of the game. Having weathered an early storm, Gareth Southgate’s men dominated the possession and dictated the tempo, only losing out to a controversial VAR decision. A draw won’t hurt their confidence however and it was another interesting experiment ahead of the summer.
From this showing it was easy to see why Italy didn’t qualify for the World Cup. They offered little going forward for most of the game and didn’t exhibit the defensive solidity that their national side is so famed for. They will have a lot of building to do to get back to competing at the very top again.
England: Butland, Walker, Stones (Henderson, 73’), Tarkowski, Dier, Trippier (Rose, 60’), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lallana, 59’), Lingard (Cook, 71’), Young, Vardy (Rashford, 70’), Sterling
Italy: Donnarumma, Zappacosta, Rugani, Bonucci, De Sciglio, Pellegrini (Gagliardini, 79’), Jorginho, Parolo, Candreva (Chiesa, 56’), Immobile (Belotti, 64’), Insigne
Goals: Vardy (1-0, 26’), Insigne (1-1, 87’)
Referee: Deniz Aytekin
Yellow Cards: Oxlade-Chamberlain (40’), Walker (72’), Young (83’)
Red Cards: None
England: Butland 7, Walker 8, Stones 7 (Henderson n/a), Tarkowski 6, Dier 7, Trippier 7 (Rose n/a), Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Lallana n/a), Lingard 7 (Cook n/a), Young 7.5, Vardy 8 (Rashford n/a), Sterling 7
Italy: Donnarumma 6.5, Zappacosta 6, Rugani 6, Bonucci 7, De Sciglio 7, Pellegrini 6 (Gagliardini n/a), Jorginho 6, Parolo 6, Candreva 6 (Chiesa n/a), Immobile 6 (Belotti n/a), Insigne 7.5
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