England 1-1 Italy: Controversial late penalty cancels out Vardy strike

VAR was at the centre of attention again but Gareth Southgate will be pleased with how his side performed against a bland Italian side.

England 1-1 Italy: Controversial late penalty cancels out Vardy strike
Vardy breaks the deadlock (photo: Getty Images / Glyn Kirk)
England
1 1
Italy
England: Butland; Trippier (Rose 59), Walker, Stones (Henderson 73), Tarkowski, Young; Dier, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lallana 59), Sterling, Lingard (Cook 70); Vardy (Rashford 70)
Italy: Donnarumma; Zappacosta, Rugani, Bonucci, De Sciglio; Pellegrini (Gagliardini 79), Jorginho, Parolo; Candreva (Chiesa 56), Immobile (Belotti 64), Insigne
SCORE: 1-0 Vardy 26, Insigne 88

A controversial penalty awarded by a VAR review prevented England from recording a sixth consecutive clean sheet against a lifeless Italian unit.

Tarkowski selected as Dier leads the hosts

In the last chance to impress whilst wearing an England shirt before the provisional World Cup squads are named, Gareth Southgate handed James Tarkowski a debut in a back three alongside Kyle Walker and John Stones. Jack Butland was given the number one shirt and Eric Dier captained the side on home turf.

Italy made five changes from the side that lost to Argentina on Friday whilst England were impressing against the Netherlands. The global giants who missed out on qualification for Russia gave teenage sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma a start in goal ahead of the man old enough to be his father, Gianluigi Buffon.

Italy threaten in the early stages before Vardy calms English nerves

Despite receiving plaudits for their performance in Amsterdam last week, the England back three made a shaky start with Stones looking uncertain against the mobile Ciro Immobile. Twice the central defender was caught on his heels with the latter moment resulting in a last-ditch block to prevent the striker from threatening Butland's goal. 

Italy set up with a high press, making it hard for England to play out from the back as they did against the Netherlands. However, the hosts did manage to work some space for Jamie Vardy who was only thwarted by an excellent challenge in the penalty area by Mattia De Sciglio.

Yet the first real opening of the contest was presented on 16 minutes. Antonio Candreva whipped in a delightful ball, picking out Immobile who peeled away from Stones but could only nod over with his free header from close range.

Raheem Sterling had been very much on the periphery of the contest but when he did pick up the ball in space he burst forward with a dangerous threat. The attacking midfielder slipped through Vardy but the lone striker could not get any real purchase on his effort to test Donnarumma. Dier then glanced a header straight at the giant shot-stopper from Kieran Trippier's outswinging corner.

Moments later, Sterling found room in between the lines again. This time he was chopped down but a quick free-kick from Jesse Lingard released Vardy who smashed the ball into the roof of the net to break the deadlock for the hosts against the run of play.

 

 

England settle as their visitors freeze

The threat at the other end was still coming from Immobile. The striker nipped past four English defenders before seeing his deflected shot trickle just wide. Marco Parolo then launched a rising strike over the top from the resulting corner.

Yet England had settled into the contest with their three attacking midfielders making runs around and behind the Italian back four. Sterling was looking threatening every time he picked up the ball and played Ashley Young into a dangerous area before the left wingback placed his effort just wide with the last strike of the half.

It was Young who carried the greatest goalscoring threat for the hosts in a patient spell after the break. Linking up with Sterling again, the former winger was thwarted by an excellent Leonardo Bonucci block. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain then stung the palms of Donnarumma after a powerful run by Dier.

As the clock ticked into ten consecutive hours of England not conceding, a blunt Italy were really struggling to get the ball out of their half and both substitute Adam Lallana and Sterling stroked weak efforts into the gloves of Donnarumma. Sterling then looped an effort over as the hosts looked to kill the contest.

VAR takes the headlines again

Southgate used the last 20 minutes to make several changes, including the introduction of Lewis Cook for his international debut. Meanwhile, Italy's attacking threat was still very bland and Lorenzo Insigne's wayward free-kick on 73 minutes symbolised their slip in quality throughout the contest and in recent years.

Five minutes later the four-time World Cup winners finally offered a spark. The highly-rated but quiet Jorginho looped a pass into the path of Insigne who edged his angled strike just past the post.

That spark soon ignited the contest as VAR caused controversy with just minutes remaining.  Federico Chiesa extravagantly dropped to the ground in the penalty area after James Tarkowski caught his trailing foot but the referee initially pointed for a corner. Gareth Southgate had asked for VAR to be used in the contest with the questionable system set to be introduced at the World Cup and the decision was overturned in a seemingly very soft decision. Kyle Walker got involved in a pushing contest before Insigne converted from the spot to draw the Italians level.

England ended the friendly as they started, looking nervy and allowing their opponents to come onto them. However, they held onto the draw and will take a number of positives from a strong display. Yet VAR will be questioned again and concerns will be raised about the system being used at the biggest football tournament on the planet.

As for Southgate...it's decision time.