MILAN — Giacomo Raspadori scored the only goal with a stunning strike in the 68th minute as Italy defeated England 1-0, which relegated Gareth Southgate’s side to the second tier of the UEFA Nations League.
England are now without a win or even a goal from open play in their past five matches less than two months before their World Cup campaign begins.
In a game of few chances at the venerable San Siro, the hosts claimed victory when Leonardo Bonucci‘s long ball sailed past England’s defence, allowing Raspadori to take it down and fire an unstoppable effort into the far corner past the despairing dive of Nick Pope.
The game was a repeat of last year’s Euro 2020 final, which saw Italy — who will miss out on the World Cup — claim the title over England at Wembley.
1. Questions grow for Southgate as England are relegated
The World Cup is all that matters right now, but England’s 1-0 defeat to Italy condemned them to relegation from UEFA Nations League A Group 3 with Monday’s finale against Germany at Wembley to come. It could have a negative effect on their seeding for Euro 2024 qualifying, but of more immediate concern is the team’s form over an extended period with just one game until the big kick-off in Qatar.
Friday’s defeat in Milan marked a fifth game without a win and came through another uneven performance in which England struggled for any rhythm for long periods. Gareth Southgate continues to switch between 3-4-3 (which becomes 5-2-3 without the ball) and 4-2-3-1 as his preferred system, and it said something about the respect he has for the opposition that he chose the more cautious approach in the San Siro.
His critics will argue it was another example of the conservatism that some fear could hold England back from maximising their attacking talent in Qatar. Southgate appeared to be booed by the travelling fans as he went to acknowledge them at full-time. There is plenty of work ahead.
2. The wait for a goal from open play goes on
England have now gone five entire matches — 450 minutes — without scoring a goal from open play, dating back to March’s 3-0 friendly win over Ivory Coast at Wembley. There is a sense this particular issue has come full circle as when England reached the 2018 World Cup semifinals, they scored nine goals from set pieces — a record at a World Cup for any team since data was first collected in 1966 — and becoming a more rounded attacking threat was a clear aim for Southgate in the years since.
No team surpassed England’s 39 goals in World Cup qualifying, but 24 of those came in four matches against minnows San Marino and Andorra, and Friday was another night to rank alongside a growing number of disjointed displays. Harry Kane forced a good double save from Gianluigi Donnarumma after England switched to 4-2-3-1 following Raspadori’s goal but they were largely ineffective with the ball once more.
3. Patched-up Italy continue Mancini’s blueprint
Italy won Euro 2020 — beating England in the final on penalties — with a 4-3-3 shape that was the antithesis of the Azzurri‘s grandest tactical traditions. Roberto Mancini believes a return to 3-5-2 is the best system for his players and a patched-up side bought into that view with a win they deserved on the balance of play.
Giacomo Raspadori benefitted from some poor defending — Kyle Walker stood off the 22-year-old as he collected Leonardo Bonucci’s 68th-minute pass — but his low drive past Nick Pope was an emphatic finish that underlined his status as a rising talent.
Subs: Jack Grealish 6, Luke Shaw 6.
Italy: Gianluigi Donnarumma 7, Rafael Toloi 7, Leonardo Bonucci 7, Francesco Acerbi 7, Giovanni Di Lorenzo 7, Nicolo Barella 7, Jorginho 7, Bryan Cristante 7, Federico Dimarco 7, Giacomo Raspadori 8, Gianluca Scamacca 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Giacomo Raspadori, Italy.
Provided the game’s highest moment of quality, taking advantage of space afforded to him by Kyle Walker to score the only goal with a fine low drive.
WORST: Bukayo Saka, England.
Although he broke into Arsenal‘s first team as a wing-back, Saka has since flourished further forward so there is some sympathy for a player asked to go back there as he looked uncomfortable and ineffective throughout.
Highlights and notable moments
England have been relegated from their Nations League group 😳 pic.twitter.com/Jznsc5qdC6
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 23, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Gareth Southgate on the lack of goals: “It’s really difficult to pinpoint why we are not scoring. I think we are getting into the right areas. We had the moments where we would have the pass but we just didn’t deliver that final piece of quality tonight.”
England midfielder Declan Rice, to Channel 4: “It’s obviously disappointing. Every tournament we go into, we set out to win. In the Nations League we have slipped below our standards but I didn’t think it was all bad tonight.”
Southgate on the boos and criticism: “I understand the reaction at the end because that’s the results we have had in this competition. It’s an understandable emotional reaction.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Don’t ever expect many goals when these two sides play. This is the 19th straight meeting between Italy and England to feature no more than three goals (the 14th with no more than two goals).
– Not the three-peat Three Lions fans want. England hadn’t been shut out in three straight games since 2000. The last game in that stretch also featured a 1-0 loss to Italy.
England: Back to Wembley for another Nations League match against Germany on Monday. This will be the final test for the Three Lions before the World Cup, where they’ll have group stage matches against Iran (Nov. 21), the United States (Nov. 25) and Wales (Nov. 29).
Italy: A trip to Hungary for a Nations League match on Monday. And while the rest of the traditional powerhouses will preparing for Qatar, the Azzurri will be playing friendlies at Albania (Nov. 16) and Austria (Nov. 20).