It was a night when England’s star shone brightly, and Italy were caught hapless in the dazzling glare of an English attack that scored three goals – and could have netted more.
In reality, the 3-0 score line flattered the Italians; if it hadn’t been for the masterful display of veteran keeper, Gianluigi Buffon, the result could have been even more crushing.
Both teams fielded the same lineups seen in their most recent World Cup qualifiers, playing in front of a 45,000 crowd at ‘Striker’ Stadium. But it was England who began the game in stunning form, gaining momentum and confidence in the early stages and never relenting.
Buffon was called on in just the 12th minute, diving to save a splintering shot on goal from Dele Alli, and then saving again from the resulting corner.
It was an omen that presaged an ominous warning for the Italians.
England were commanding in midfield and stronger in the challenges. They dominated with the ball and with physicality. They pressed for possession whilst the Italians seemed to stand off the ball and give the dangerous English midfield the space to create opportunities.
In the 30th minute Defoe scored his first goal for the evening after England won the ball in midfield and played long and wide to Sterling who slipped behind a compressed Italian defense. Sterling slotted a well-weighted ball into the goalmouth and Defoe took a touch before driving the ball into the back of the net from ten yards. Buffon had no chance.
Defoe makes no mistake from close range after Sterling’s well-weighted pass found the striker in space.
The goal opened the flood-gates, and Italy found themselves on the back foot and under relentless pressure. England’s defensive line was high up the park and for long stanzas of play the Italians were unable to clear the ball from their half.
Italy had only one chance in the first 45 minutes of play; a free-kick beyond the English penalty box. The shot curled around the 4-man wall but drifted ineffectively high over the crossbar.
Italy’s only chance at goal came late in the first half – but the shot flew high over the crossbar.
England began the second half as if there had never been a break in play. Their domination in tackles was telling. Italy had no option but to defend grimly, seemingly thrown off their own game by the surprising physicality of England’s robust determination.
In the 61st minute a missed tackle in defense cost Italy a second goal. Lallana won the ball wide on the left and drove for the byline. His cut-back pass into the goal mouth found Defoe lurking. Buffon had no chance against the England striker’s thunderbolt shot from close range.
Lallana and Defoe combine to score England’s second goal after Lallana drove to the byline, seizing on an Italian defensive error.
England were leading 2-0, yet showed no sign of relenting, and it seemed that Italy were powerless to change the momentum of the game. Their midfield lacked time and space on the ball against a swarming English press, and the Italian strikers were starved for possession.
In the 80th minute, Raheem Sterling made it a memorable night for the English when he found himself on the end of crisp passing interplay at the edge of the Italian penalty box. Sterling cocked himself to fire off a shot, then took a weaving run towards the 6 yard box instead. The fractured Italian defense threw themselves desperately at the ball, but Sterling had just enough time and space to beat Buffon’s valiant dive for a third and final time.
Under immense pressure and in the narrowest of spaces, Raheem Sterling fires on goal to make the score 3-0 in favour of England.
It was the end of the action, and the end of any hopes the Italians might have held at the beginning of the match. England were simply dominant in possession and more aggressive in the challenges. That raw desperation culminated in a weight of possession that simply sank Italy under the weight of three unanswered goals.