ITALY 1, ENGLAND 1
Graziano Pelle scores deserved opener for Italy after 29 minutes
England toil but substitute Andros Townsend nets equaliser after 79 minutes
England’s unbeaten run now eight games this season
This was the first serious test of England after their latest victory in an eminently winnable European Championships qualification group and they found the going tough against elite opposition who were themselves in a state of change.
Roy Hodgson made five changes from the side that beat Lithuania on Friday and switched back to a midfield diamond for the trip to Italy but there was precious little entertainment on show as England tried to make it eight straight wins in a row this season.
Wayne Rooney was played in midfield for the fourth time in an England shirt where he was joined by Manchester United team mate Phil Jones in an unfamiliar position at the base of the diamond. Theo Walcott, playing his first international in 18 months, joined Harry Kane up front with the Spurs man who was making his first England start.
Joining Jones, Kane and Walcott in the starting line-up were Phil Jagielka, and Kieran Gibbs while Gary Cahill, Leighton Baines, Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck and Michael Carrick stepped out.
Only two Italian players, Giorgio Chiellini and Matteo Darmian started against England in Manaus during the Brazil World Cup last year, with England fielding four – Joe Hart, Jagielka, Jordan Henderson, and Rooney.
Despite a 50th cap for Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart at the age of 27, the England side in Turin had the air of experimentation about it. They lacked width but used Walcott in a central role in which the Arsenal flyer disappeared as England laboured in a becalmed Juventus Stadium which was nowhere near full.
What we saw was an attempt to play a slower possession game but with few questions asked of Italy and little effectiveness in an unfamiliar midfield as the ball was shuttled from side to side until England lost the ball.
Harry Kane showed flashes of form while Wayne Rooney had England’s best chance of the night after 21 minutes, hitting the bar after Fabian Delph’s cross was flicked on by Kane only for the England captain’s shot to take a deflection and hit the crossbar with Gianluigi Buffon beaten.
It was to be another striker plying his trade in England who would open the scoring, however, and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle scored his second goal in three internationals when his header looped in past Hart after Chiellini had easily sidestepped Jones down his left flank, stepped inside and delivered a right footed cross that found Pelle in plenty of space.
Hodgson was forced to reshuffle just before the break when Chris Smalling got injured, and Michael Carrick came on and anchored midfield, allowing Jones to return to a more comfortable defensive berth. England improved in the second half and looked more composed on the ball but clear chances remained few.
Rooney’s next clear sight of goal wasn’t until the 72nd minute when his shot was parried by Buffon at a manageable height. He was denied by a last ditch tackle by Leonardo Bonucci a minute later after Kane had put a great cross in the from the right.
Substitute Andros Townsend came to England’s rescue after Italy failed to complete a clearance, allowing fellow Spurs substitute Ryan Mason to feed him the loose ball on the edge of the area and making space before shooting across Buffon and into the goal with little over ten minutes left.
With Italy rattled, England suddenly gained some focus. Rooney was blocked by Buffon while trying to score a winner with nine minutes to go.
With hubris briefly getting the better of England, Joe Hart looked beaten as Luca Antolelli escaped the attentions of Jagielka and shot wide of the far post.
And there was to be no repeat fairy tale ending for Harry Kane as his injury time shot was comfortably saved by Buffon.