Two of Europe's biggest footballing nations met in the Swiss capital of Berne in a re-match of their Euro 2012 quarter-final. On that occasion in Kiev Italy out-passed and out-classed England but only just ended up winning in a penalty shoot-out. This was always going to be a low-key affair but it was pleasantly entertaining as both sides, although under-strength, looked to attack as much as possible. Roy Hodgson's men produced an encouraging display in their first match since that agonising defeat as they won 2-1 courtesy of goals from Phil Jagielka and Jermain Defoe.
The Three Lions fielded a youthful side that included 19-year-old Birmingham City goal-keeper Jack Butland and Team GB representatives Ryan Bertrand (substitute) and Tom Cleverley. New £12 million Manchester City signing Jack Rodwell failed to get off the bench after his new team-mate Adam Johnson started the match. In what was always going to be an experimental game manager Roy Hodgson took the chance to tinker as he named ten players that did not travel to Ukraine two months ago in the squad.
England started the first half brightly and big Liverpool striker Andy Carroll headed over from a corner early on. However it was the European runners-up who took the lead after a quarter of an hour through a powerful Daniele de Rossi header from an in-swinging Alessandro Diamanti set-piece. England responded well and continued to pass the ball crisply and equalised 12 minutes later when Everton centre-back Phil Jagielka smashed home. Both sides had more attempts before half-time to complete an exciting first 45, but the break came with the scores level.
Hodgson made two changes at the interval as he swapped the brute aggression and heading ability of Carroll with the speed and clinical finishing attributes of Jermain Defoe. The goal-keepers were also swapped as the original third-choice keeper for Euro 2012, John Ruddy, replaced the man who took his spot on the plane in June, Butland. Ruddy was forced into an early stop as he got down well to thwart Roma forward Mattia Destro. Italy boss Cesare Prandelli only used one of his changes at half-time and it was the man he brought on who almost regained the Azurri the advantage on 57 minutes. Atalanta left-back Federico Peluso broke into the area but could only hit his shot on the slide into the side-netting as Ruddy closed the angle.
With the Premier League starting on Saturday the England manager would have felt under pressure to keep his players in top condition. On the hour mark he brought on Manchester City duo Joleon Lescott and James Milner for Ashley Young and goal scorer Jagielka to try and make an impact. England appeared to have taken the lead in the 66th minute thanks to a thumping Gary Cahill volley but the strike was ruled out by Swiss referee Sascha Kever for an apparent push by Lescott.
Italy came close to breaking the dead-lock came in the 78th minute as a miss-kick by Destro fell kindly for substitute Verratti whose drive was well tipped away by Ruddy. From the resulting corner Bertrand had to head off his own line with his first touch of the ball, but in doing so set up an England counter-attack led by James Milner. Milner found Defoe who turned his man on the left corner of the box before firing into the top corner with plenty of panache. In the closing stages it was England who looked the more likely to score on the counter-attack and a low James Milner cross almost found Defoe who would have had a simple tap-in had the ball reached him.
|Photo courtesy of The Guardian|