England succumbed to a defeat in their opening game after Lorenzo Insigne’s free kick secured a 1-0 victory for Italy and resigned Stuart Pearce’s side to a disappointing loss in Tel-Aviv.
The impressive Napoli attacker was a constant menace to England throughout, and ultimately decided the game when he curled beyond goalkeeper Jack Butland from 20 yards after Nathaniel Clyne had felled Manolo Gabbiadini on the edge of the box.
However, Pearce’s charges have reason to feel aggrieved after Craig Dawson thought he had put England in front; only for the header to be inexplicably chalked off for a questionable foul.
Roy Hodgson’s senior side have come in for criticism following the recent draws against the Republic of Ireland and Brazil, with former striker Gary Lineker bemoaning Hodgson’s choice of formation on Twitter. Pearce also opted for 4-4-2, with wide players Tom Ince and Danny Rose suspended in the wake of the Serbia scandal, and Wilfried Zaha not risked with an ankle knock.
The very same flaws that have arisen at senior level were evident early on, as Italy unsurprisingly held onto the majority of possession, and it was they who had the first real chance as striker Ciro Immobile raced clear on the shoulder of Dawson but could only fire wide of Butland’s goal.
England were very nearly the engineers of their own downfall shortly after, when a communication error between Clyne and Butland almost allowed Insigne an open net to slot into, but Clyne was able to divert the ball behind for a corner.
Just as Insigne led the Italians’ charge alongside impressive PSG midfielder Marco Verratti; Nathan Redmond shone for England, carving out a couple of opportunities for Connor Wickham and running at the heart of Italy's defence on occasions.
But Italy were resolute at the back, and led a lightning counter as Insigne and Immobile executed a perfect one-two, although Butland was off his line in time to put the former off. Another counter before the half was done presented a strong penalty shout for Devis Mangia’s side, as Alessandro Florenzi’s quick nutmeg was enough to coax Jack Robinson into making a rash challenge, but the referee called no penalty.
England had certainly been on the back foot in the first half, and Pearce had clearly looked to address that at the break as his side made a purposeful start to the second. They almost reaped the rewards two minutes after the restart, when Redmond’s through ball found Wickham; who clipped smartly beyond Francesco Bardi only for the offside flag to deny England a lead.
And it was two out of two for ruled out goals soon after, when an England corner was flicked up by Steven Caulker for his defensive partner Dawson to nod home what he believed to be the opener, but was curiously overruled.
Italy were lucky to still be on level terms, and set about trying to take the lead when Butland was forced into action after Florenzi’s cross was headed goalwards by substitute Gabbiadini. Liverpool striker Fabio Borini was next to try his luck, charging down Butland’s kick but he was only able to angle a shot wide.
The Azzurini had regained their dominance and finally secured a lead when England right-back Clyne tangled with Gabbiadini and conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box. The diminutive Insigne made sure the set piece was his to strike, and rightly so when he curled over a static wall into Butland’s near post for the winner.
England threatened through Redmond in the final ten minutes, and captain Jordan Henderson almost scored a free-kick of his own when he forced a good stop from Bardi, but Italy held on for a deserved three points.
Elsewhere in Group A, hosts Israel were denied a win in stoppage time when Norway forward Harmeet Singh levelled the game at 2-2, after the impressive Israeli captain Nir Biton had converted from the penalty spot before strikes from Marcus Pedersen and substitute Alon Turgerman.