Tonight’s team may have been captained by the 35 year old Frank Lampard, but the game was really a chance for the youthful England players to show their worth to manager Roy Hodgson. Jack Butland, who had impressed during Team GB’s Olympic campaign, started the match, becoming England’s youngest goalkeeper in 100 years. Manchester United's Tom Cleverly win his first England cap, having also competed in the Olympics. Only Ashley Young retained his place in the starting line up from the team that was fell foul to Italy in the Euros.
England looked solid for the opening part of the match, playing with an energy that had been missing from them on Poland and Ukraine. Unlike the Euros, when they rarely held the ball for long, tonight England controlled possession well. They passed swiftly and carefully, resisting the urge to lob speculative long passes to lone striker Andy Carroll. Instead they played in a fluid 4-2-3-1, with Adam Johnson, Young and Cleverly making creative runs at the Italian defence from midfield. However despite controlling the start of the game, it was Italy that opened the scoring. Alessandro Diamanti’s corner found the head of Di Rossi in the 15th minute, putting the Azzurri ahead.
Undetered, England kept playing solid football and it was only twelve minutes later that they got a deserved equaliser. Kyle Walker won a corner after brilliantly linking up with Adam Johnson on the right wing. It was taken by Lampard and Jagielka shrugged off his marker and met the ball with an excellent diving header. England almost doubled their lead when Lampard smashed a shot from 30 yards a few minutes later but the ball was punched away by keeper Sirigu.
The second half saw Defoe come on for Carrol and England continued playing positive football with Adam Johnson particularly effective on the right wing. Italy’s only threat came from Mattia Destro, who forced substitute keeper John Ruddy into make two good saves.
But for all of England’s good play, luck didn’t seem to be on their side. They had two goals disallowed in the second half, the first from Cahill and the second from Defoe. Lescot then came close to scoring after a defensive mix up between Peluso and keeper Sirigu, however he couldn’t quite get the angle he wanted and the ball came off the post.
England finally broke the deadlock with a swift counter attack with only 11 minutes remaining. Substitute Ryan Bertrand had headed the ball off the England goal line after an Italian attack. Milner then picked up possession and ran half the length of the pitch before feeding in Defoe on the edge of the box. The Tottenham striker twisted past the defender and then struck a powerful shot into the top corner of the net, securing the win.
It was a promising display for England, who need to utalise their younger players and freshen up a side burdened by age and expectation. If they keep playing with the tempo they did tonight they will easily qualify for the World Cup in Brazil.