England were denied a second successive friendly victory by a late Italy penalty awarded by the video assistant referee (VAR) at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate’s side were good value for a lead given to them by Jamie Vardy’s powerful 26th-minute finish, fired past keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma after Jesse Lingard’s quickly taken free-kick caught the visitors out.
England were fortunate to escape some defensive lapses, especially when Ciro Immobile headed over in the first half – but looked to be closing out a confidence-boosting win until a late intervention from VAR.
Referee Deniz Aytekin consulted VAR after Burnley defender James Tarkowski tangled with Federico Chiesa, and decided the England debutant had stepped on the Italian’s foot, allowing Lorenzo Insigne to beat Jack Butland with just three minutes left.
England’s players complained long and hard about the award of the spot-kick – but VAR looked to have got this one right, much to Southgate’s frustration.
Southgate has reasons to be cheerful
England will feel an understandable sense of disappointed and frustration that Italy’s late penalty denied them a win they deserved and the chance to record back-to-back victories in these two friendlies – their last before naming a provisional World Cup squad on 14 May.
However, Southgate can take plenty away from two fixtures against countries who are in reduced circumstances and will not figure at the World Cup, but who always present a serious challenge.
England looked lively and creative in attack, although these two games were evidence of how much they will rely on Harry Kane. Southgate will be desperate the Tottenham man recovers fully and on schedule from his knee injury.
They looked progressive and pleasing on the eye going forward, albeit in need of Kane’s killer instinct, and have the weapons pose a threat this summer in Russia.
England are, however, still very much a work in progress.
There were still uncertain moments at the back, especially when John Stones conceded possession early on, but fortunately Ciro Immobile had a nightmare evening.
It was a shame Burnley defender Tarkowski conceded the penalty late on because he had made an assured debut and had not looked out of place. His look of despair as referee Deniz Aytekin awarded the spot-kick was understandable.
A frustrating outcome for England – but enough for Southgate to build on.
Superb Sterling feels the love
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling called on England’s fans to show the team some love before the match – and he was warmly embraced by the Wembley crowd after this excellent performance.
Sterling has often been England’s whipping boy in the past but he has carried his outstanding club form on to the international stage in the double-header against the Netherlands and Italy.
In the first half, his strong running unsettled the Italy defence as he emerged as England’s main attacking threat.
Sterling stayed on his feet after being fouled twice to create a chance for Vardy and he was brought down again for the free-kick Lingard took so quickly to set the Leicester City striker up for his goal.
Southgate is looking for players with adaptability for his World Cup squad and Sterling, confidence sky high after a superb season under Pep Guardiola’s guidance at Etihad Stadium, now fits the bill.
He missed a second-half opportunity but his link with Lingard showed rich promise and he also produced a moment of great skill to play in Ashley Young for a chance after the break.
On this form, he will be a crucial component of England’s World Cup plans.
Where will Alli fit in for England?
Perhaps surprisingly, Dele Alli has been marginalised in these two friendlies, restricted to a place on the substitutes’ bench, with a cameo appearance in Amsterdam.
The Tottenham midfielder is a certain World Cup inclusion and a strong contender for a starting place – but he is not as certain to line up in the opening match as he may have been.
Lingard has shown his ability to affect games while Sterling also showed his quality coming from behind the striker.
Alli is still an outstanding talent but it may be no bad thing for England or Southgate that he has been given a reminder he has some serious competition for his place.
‘It’s not clear and obvious’ – what Southgate said
England boss Gareth Southgate speaking to ITV about VAR: “I’m glad it’s not the World Cup just yet. I think the ruling is ‘clear and obvious’ and it’s not. It’s one you can debate all day.
“It looks like James Tarkowski stands on him but it’s during the running process and he’s going down anyway.
“I think the referee had a good view already. I don’t think with incidents like that VAR will clear things up. An obvious handball and stuff like that then maybe – but we have to get on with it.”
Pundit reaction to VAR
Alan Shearer on Twitter: “If you choose to ignore the ‘clear and obvious’ guidance, then you potentially have to review every decision and the game will descend into chaos.”
Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker on Twitter: “If VAR is going to turn us over, it’s better to happen now. A clear and obviously deserved victory taken away. It’s irrelevant whether they think it was a penalty or not. VAR is there for the obvious howlers. This was far from that.”
Fortress Wembley – the best of the stats
England have lost just one of their past 20 internationals at Wembley – winning 15. That defeat was by the Netherlands in March 2016 and the Three Lions are unbeaten in 10 games at the national stadium since then.
England have only managed one victory in their past eight matches against Italy, and have failed to keep a clean sheet in six of the past seven.
Luigi di Biagio is the first Italy coach to fail to win his first two games since Roberto Donadoni in September 2006.
Insigne’s penalty was the first goal England have conceded in 10 hours and 24 minutes of football (624 minutes).
Vardy scored his first England goal since 26 March 2017 – 366 days ago. However, only Kane (seven) has scored more under Southgate than Vardy (three).
Five of Vardy’s seven goals for England have come against sides who were in the top 15 of Fifa’s world rankings.
Tarkowski is the fourth Burnley player to make an appearance for England since the start of 2017. Only Tottenham (seven), Liverpool (six) and Manchester United (six) have had more players appear.