By Mitch Phillips
MILAN (Reuters) – England’s sorry Nations League run continued on Friday as Giacomo Raspadori’s 68th-minute strike gave Italy a deserved 1-0 win that relegated the shot-shy visitors to the second tier League B and kept the Italians in the hunt to top Group 3.
There was precious little to provide optimism for England’s fans with Qatar only two months away but at least they will be going, unlike Italy, still trying to come to terms with their failure to qualify for the second World Cup in a row either side of winning the European Championship.
In a game of few chances at the San Siro, the hosts looked the more ambitious side and settled the game through Raspadori’s crisp finish.
England barely managed an effort on goal and looked unrecognisable from the team who went 22 games unbeaten until June – not counting the Euro 2020 final shootout defeat by Italy.
They have scored only one goal, a penalty, in their five Nations League games going into their final match at home to Germany on Monday.
Italy still have a chance of topping the group and making the playoffs but they will need to beat Hungary in Budapest on Monday after the surprise leaders won 1-0 in Germany.
After Italy started with a five-minute attacking flurry, highlighted by Gianluca Scamacca’s header pushed onto a post by Nick Pope, the first half developed into cautious probings from both sides with neither goalkeeper further challenged.
The risk-averse approach was perhaps understandable bearing in mind that in their last outings in June England were hammered 4-0 at home by Hungary while Italy lost 5-2 to Germany, but that was of little consolation to the bored 50,000-plus crowd.
Italy improved after the break and settled the game when Raspadori neatly brought down a long ball by Leonardo Bonucci on the edge of the box and, given far too much time to consider his options, cut in onto his right foot and fired past Pope.
Manolo Gabbiadini, winning his first cap in five years, forced Pope into a good save, while the impressive Federico Dimarco hit the post as Italy finished strongly.
England were unable to manage more than a couple of Harry Kane snap shots and although manager Gareth Southgate was booed by the visiting fans as he went to applaud them he took a remarkably upbeat view of the game.
“It’s difficult for me to be too critical of the performance. We had more possession, more shots, more shots on target,” he said.
“For large parts of the game we played very well. We didn’t deal with the decisive moment defensively. We had moments where we had the chance to be decisive in their final third when our quality wasn’t quite right.
“It’s a spell where ultimately results are going to be the thing that everyone reacts to but I thought there were a lot of positives for us as a team tonight. I completely understand because of the result that is not going to be the reaction.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)