Lorenzo Insigne scored a late penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw for Italy at Wembley on Tuesday night.
Aside from a few early Italian chances, England looked comfortable for most of the game. The Three Lions defence was solid with its new-look formation of three centre halves, and the combination play of Jamie Vardy, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard in attack kept Italy under constant pressure.
England got their reward for that pressure in the 27th minute. After Sterling was fouled 30 yards from goal, Lingard quickly restarted the play with a through ball to an onrushing Vardy, who smashed it past Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to give the home side the lead.
The second half was far more pedestrian from both sides, with neither generating many clear-cut scoring opportunities. The Azzurri were thrown a lifeline in the 88th minute when the controversial VAR system awarded them a penalty after the cries for a foul were initially waved away.
England’s James Tarkowski appeared to step on the foot of Italy’s Marco Chiesa, and the referee pointed to the spot after seeing the play on video. Insigne then calmly slotted home the penalty to earn the visitors a draw, but England manager Gareth Southgate still has positives to take from his side’s two matches during this international window.
The penalty was the first goal England have conceded in six matches, a promising sign as the World Cup in Russia looms ever closer. The switch to playing with three at the back and two wing backs on the flanks seems to have provided a bit of extra stability in defence.
But there were still some nervy moments, particularly when Italian forward Ciro Immobile was given plenty of space in the box but flashed a free header over the bar. Southgate still hasn’t figured out what his best centre half pairing is, and both Tarkowski and John Stones had unconvincing performances last night.
The attack is improving as well, moving at a quicker pace and combining with increasing chemistry. Yet they still aren’t converting chances at a high rate, scoring just four goals in their last six matches. All the pieces are there for a strong showing at this World Cup, but it remains to be seen whether they can gel in time to make a deep run at the tournament.
The players will now return to their respective clubs, and for some the last two months of the season will serve as an audition for a national team call up this summer.
England have just two friendlies remaining before their opening World Cup match against Tunisia on June 18th.
Photo by Ian Higbee on Unsplash