A late penalty that was awarded by the Video Assistant Referee denied Gareth Southgate’s England back-to-back victories as Luigi Di Biagio’s Italy visited Wembley Stadium for the first time on Tuesday evening in an International friendly.
Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy had given the Three Lions the lead in the first-half with a memorable finish to score his eighth goal for his nation and it looked like it was going to be enough for their first home win over Azzurri since 1977.
However, German referee Deniz Aytekin checked a late tackle by debutant Janes Tarkowski on substitute Federico Chiesa and overturned his original corner decision, leaving forward Lorenzo Insigne to convert without any problems.
The late equaliser was the hosts’ first conceded goal since September but will fill the Italians, who missed out on qualification to this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, confidence for the tough few months ahead on an emotional evening for them.
From the start in West London, it must be noted that both managers Southgate and Di Biagio decided to use the exhibition match as an experiment to toy with and try to perfect different formations and styles.
For the home side, it would be three at the back once again and Jack Butland in goal, the three comprised of Kyle Walker, John Stones and James Tarkowski, while Eric Dier sat in front of them, four supported Jamie Vardy and Raheem Sterling beyond them, wing-backs Tottenham Hotspur’s Kieran Trippier and Manchester United’s Ashley Young, in between then were Jesse Lingard and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Even the best football tipsters will struggle to second-guess Southgate’s first choice XI for the summer.
Meanwhile, a more traditional 4-3-3 formation was adopted but the visitors with youngster Gigi Donnarumma between the sticks, Davide Zappacosta, Daniele Rugani, captain Leonardo Bonucci and Mattia De Sciglio protected his goal with the trio of Marco Parolo, Jorginho, Lorenzo Pellegrini next supporting fearsome attackers Antonio Candreva, Ciro Immobile and eventual goal-scorer Lorenzo Insigne.
Before the rather uninspiring encounter could begin, a touching tribute was played to three former footballers, one of the first black players to represent England Cyrille Regis, 1966 World Cup winner Jimmy Armfield and Italian International Davide Astori who had all passed away recently, a moving minute of applause being observed.
Once it did get underway, Stones lived dangerously for the home side, a string of early mistakes from him leading to Italy chances that weren’t taken, allowing the Three Lions to grow into the match.
Immobile did go close once more for the visitors, however, unable to hit the target with a header from point-blank range, while Vardy did threaten to hit the target at the other end when slipped in by Lingard miraculous De Sciglio defending denying him.
However, the next time that the prolific forward got a sight at goal, the four-time World Cup winners weren’t so lucky, as Sterling, who forced Donnarumma into a save moments earlier, won a free-kick.
Lingard took it quickly to give Vardy a clear sight of goal, he unsurprisingly needed no second invitation to shoot, smashing the ball emphatically high into the roof of the net and almost taking it off its stanchions in the process.
The Italians showed their strong backbone in the moments that followed in very nearly finding an instant way back into the match from a corner that was well won by the dangerous Immobile.
A delivery was cleared, falling to Parolo and his effort whistled wide, down the opposite end, Young came within inches of extending the advantage against the run of play.
But, the United man’s cross/shot neither found a teammate nor nestled in the bottom corner meaning that it was just the one for the Three Lions going into half-time, though they hadn’t been convincing in a defensive sense.
Southgate’s defensive frailties were put on display once again in the second period when Insigne was allowed a free volley at the far post in the second half, it was a warning shot of what was about to come.
Before that, the hosts had enjoyed relative second period dominance, although the Italians’ own defence was proving a tough nut to crack open as England looked to seal the deal.
Substitute Adam Lallana and the usual Sterling’s and Vardy’s couldn’t make sure of it for England and ultimately, they were made to pay, albeit in rather unfortunate circumstances.
Wembley booed as the referee ran to view his VAR screen moments after waving away faint Italians penalty claim instead awarding a corner, only to run back onto the pitch pointing to the penalty spot.
Tarkowski, who had performed well on his debut the Burnley defender, appeared to brush aside the speedy Chiesa off the bench as he entered the box, replays showing that he had accidentally stood on his foot causing him to collapse to the ground.
Supporters and pundits alike agreed that it was a very harsh and dubious decision, but they couldn’t prevent Insigne of Napoli beating Butland despite the Stoke City keeper guessing the wrong way.
The spot-kick signalled the first time since September 2017 that an Italy striker had scored, it was worth the wait for the Azzurri as it meant they avoided defeat and frustrated the Three Lions in Southgate’s final international before naming his World Cup squad.
There was no chance for a dramatic winner for the home nation, who now won’t play until after the naming of their World Cup squad at the back end of May, welcoming Nigeria to Wembley in early June.
Whereas, the Azzurri will be enduring a quiet summer for sure though they will be in action in late May, playing host to Saudi Arabia before travelling to France, both of their opponents have qualified for Russia, they will hope to register a first win since their play-off loss to Sweden.