Toothless England relegated from the Nations League after defeat in Italy

Toothless England relegated from the Nations League after defeat in Italy

Toothless England relegated from the Nations League after defeat in Italy

England suffered relegation from the Nations League’s top flight after a tepid defeat to Italy which raises further concerns ahead of the winter World Cup.

Among the favorites to triumph in Qatar after reaching the semi-finals four years ago and the Euro 2020 final, things have gone wrong for Gareth Southgate’s side of late.

England failed to win any of their four June games and produced a meek response to their 4-0 Molineux drubbing against Hungary, with Giacomo Raspadori sealing Roberto Mancini’s Italy a 1-0 win on Friday night.

A fifth straight game without a win means Southgate’s men are relegated from Group A of the Nations League – a competition they finished third in three years ago – with a game to spare.

Relegation is embarrassing, but the performance is arguably more worrying, as there are only 59 days until the World Cup opener against Iran.

The Euro 2020 finalists had played out a forgettable goalless draw behind closed doors in June, and the first half in Milan somehow managed to turn even sadder as England struggled against the Azzurri.

It didn’t get any better from the visitors’ perspective as Italy, who will not be in Qatar, kept them at bay and secured victory through Raspadori’s fine effort.

Southgate’s side lacked the ruthlessness required on the eve of a San Siro encounter that ends with more questions than answers, with only Monday’s home game against Germany coming before the World Cup.

Bukayo Saka, named England’s men’s player of the year earlier in the day, was deployed at left wing-back at the San Siro, where Eric Dier won his first cap since November 2020 amid six changes from Hungary’s humiliation.

Harry Maguire was another brought in and the Manchester United captain’s inauspicious name was chanted by the 4,415 traveling fans in a show of support that followed Southgate’s public endorsement on Thursday.

The 29-year-old settled after a shaky start as Italy got on the front foot, with Gianluca Scamacca beating him all too easily to a deep Federico Dimarco cross from the right.

A combination of Nick Pope, deputizing for the injured Jordan Pickford, and the woodwork denied the West Ham forward’s powerful header at his near post before the frontman struck from distance.

England quelled that storm and began to enjoy periods of possession, albeit without injecting creativity and excitement into their play.

It was cumbersome with the ball, there was very little to note in terms of chances beyond Jude Bellingham’s attack on the ground and Harry Kane who buzzed over from distance.

Fortunately, there was no extra time at the end of a miserable first half.

Dier produced a vital block and Reece James headed over a well-placed free-kick after Leonardo Bonucci had tripped Raheem Sterling on the edge of the area.

Phil Foden threw his hands in the air in frustration as Kane took a shot from an acute angle when he was free at the back post as the visitors’ disjointed display continued.

England were fortunate that a combination of the offside flag and Nicolo Barella’s poor finish prevented them falling behind in the 57th minute after Dimarco was set free to send a pinpoint cross to the far post.

The game had now become ragged and stretched, swaying from end to end without much quality. Rafael Toloi prevented Saka from reaching a Kane cross before substitute Wilfried Gnonto’s ferocious drive forced a fine block.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 68th minute when the Azzurri struck.

Bonucci’s long ball put Raspadori in behind Kyle Walker, with the striker keeping his cool before sending a delightful strike beyond Pope just inside the box.

Kane forced Gianluigi Donnarumma into a double save as England chased an equaliser, with former Southampton striker Manolo Gabbiadini seeing a shot saved by Pope at the other end before Dimarco’s cross hit the post.

Declan Rice saw a hopeful stoppage-time effort saved and Bellingham headed over as Italy saw out victory, leaving the traveling hordes audibly frustrated at full-time.

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