England pay the penalty as VAR verdict denies Southgate’s side victory
England led until the late stages but a spot-kick went against them.
England’s World Cup preparations continued in encouraging fashion despite the frustration of a video assistant referee ruling allowing Italy to snatch a 1-1 draw at Wembley.
Four days after securing a deserved win in Holland, tentative optimism continued as the Three Lions produced a promising display against another big-name absentee from this summer’s finals.
Italy are not the force they once were but this was another assured display from England, even though a familiar lack of cutting edge meant Gareth Southgate’s side failed to build on Jamie Vardy’s first-half goal. Lorenzo Insigne grabbed an 88th-minute penalty leveller after a video assistant referee review.
Referee Deniz Aytekin pointed to the spot after looking at footage of debutant James Tarkowski making contact with Italy substitute Federico Chiesa, but it did not take too much gloss off another solid display in England’s last match before Southgate names his squad for Russia.
The friendly was the England players’ last chance to press home their case for a place on the plane, with the provisional 35-man squad due in with FIFA on May 14 and the final 23-group required to be finalised by June 4.
Southgate will have been largely impressed by his side’s performance, although the three-man defence was guilty of the odd hairy moment and Jack Butland did not look as assured in possession as Jordan Pickford did on his audition for the number one jersey.
At the other end patient play was complemented by intelligent attacking transitions, with sparkling Raheem Sterling’s directness causing problems – and leading to the free-kick that Jesse Lingard’s played quickly though for Vardy to fire home.
England should have had more but the lack of cutting edge that has been stark in Harry Kane’s absence continued, allowing Insigne to level after the penalty given away by Tarkowski.
The Burnley defender looked solid enough on a night when England’s three-man defence was nowhere near as coherent as it was Amsterdam, with John Stones looking particularly cumbersome in the opening exchanges.
Ciro Immobile snatched possession away from the dallying Manchester City defender, taking possession on the edge of the England box only to be denied by a last-ditch recovery challenge.
England’s desire to play it out from the back did not wane, but the work still required on that system was highlighted again in the 16th minute as the unmarked Immobile got between Kyle Walker and Stones, only to send his close-range header off target.
Tarkowski sent a looping header over and Mattia De Sciglio’s exceptional challenge stopped Vardy capitalising on a fine Lingard through-ball at the other end.
England grew into the ascendancy and Sterling was proving a handful, showing no little skill and desire to get back up after a foul and play through Vardy. The striker’s shot was stopped by Gianluigi Donnarumma – just as captain Eric Dier’s header was two minutes later.
Sterling’s direct running continued to unsettle Italy and the home side made that count with some quick thinking in the 26th minute.
Referee Aytekin signalled for a free-kick after the Manchester City man was nipped when racing through, with Lingard reacting smartly and catching the Azzurri on the hop with a pass that Vardy rifled home.
Sterling was soon galloping through again, with his smart play out left to the overlapping Ashley Young seeing a low cross-shot deflected just wide.
Immobile’s deflected strike and a rifled Marco Parolo effort were the best Italy could muster as half-time approached, with Butland fortunate not to give the visitors another chance shortly after the break with a wayward pass.
Italy were only fleetingly threatening though, and Young saw a close-range attempt blocked after more fine work by Sterling before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tried his luck.
Substitute Adam Lallana and Sterling had attempts as substitutions took the sting of out of the game, with Lewis Cook coming on for his England debut.
Insigne looked most likely to peg the hosts back and fired a volley just wide from an acute angle, with the Napoli attacking midfielder eventually doing the damage from the spot.
Chiesa went down in the box under pressure, with his foot stepped on by Tarkowski, and a VAR review led to the penalty being awarded in the Azzurri’s favour despite England’s protestations.