Half-time postbag. “Dear Christ, this is awful, isn’t it? Two games from a World Cup? Yikes.” Ben Watson there, with an email that reads even more glumly if you come at it from an Italian perspective.
Meanwhile in lieu of meaningful action at San Siro, Kári Tulinius reports: “The first half of Finland v Romania has been decently entertaining. The latter have probably been the better team, but Teemu Pukki is a forward who can reliably shoot the ball hard and hit the target, so despite Romania having more and better chances, the Eagle-Owls lead 1-0. Enjoy the 2nd half!” We’ll try.
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ALSO HALF TIME: Germany 0-1 Hungary. Adam Szalai with the only goal so far on 17 minutes. As things stand, Hungary will win Group A3 and make it through to the finals.
The referee blows up on 44 minutes and 59 seconds. You can’t blame him. That wasn’t much of a spectacle. Channel 4 aren’t getting much bang for their buck from this England deal, are they.
43 min: Another Foden free kick from the left. This one’s better, towards Rice on the right-hand edge of the six-yard box. Bonucci is forced to eyebrow out for a corner, but that’ll never be taken, because the whistle goes for shoving. Rice really didn’t do too much wrong there, and looks understandably incensed.
42 min: Kane is given an absurd amount of space to run into. He strides down the middle, thinks about passing, thinks again, then blooters over the bar from 30 yards. Donnarumma calmly watches the ball sail away.
40 min: Italy push England back. Acerbi threatens down the inside-left channel, but then Foden nips in the road and wins a free kick. The pressure on England is released.
38 min: Scamacca knocks a long ball down for Cristante, who creams a first-time shot goalwards. It deflects away from danger, off the back of his own man Scamacca.
37 min: Bellingham meets the corner on the edge of the box, but can only send a weak bouncer through to Donnarumma. England have suddenly taken it up a notch.
36 min: Bellingham works his way down the right and earns England a corner. James takes. More bagatelle. Dimarco is forced to hack out for another corner on the same side. James to take again.
35 min: Free kick for England out on the left touchline. Foden’s free kick is half cleared. James, romping down the inside-right flank, has a speculative whack. The ball bagatelles its way through the Italy box and out for what should be a corner … but the referee awards a goal kick instead.
33 min: Mancini hugs the touchline and gives Dimarco some trenchant advice. He’s not happy with his team at all.
31 min: England are enjoying the (three) lions’ share of possession – 57 percent so far – but Italy look the more likely to open the scoring. Not that either keeper has had too much meaningful work to do.
30 min: Dimarco has another run down the left and wins a corner off James. He takes it himself, and the delivery is appalling, easy meat for Pope.
29 min: It’s Bellingham versus Raspadori again. This time the England midfielder brings his man down 30 yards from goal. Italy decide not to send the free kick direct into the box, instead working the ball left to Dimarco, who crosses long. Barella stops the ball from crossing the byline to the right of goal, but there’s nobody in blue to take advantage of his pullback.
27 min: Barella finds himself in a lot of space down the right. He looks up and rolls infield for Raspadori, in space on the penalty spot. Raspadori takes a poor touch and loses the opportunity to shoot. Bellingham intercepts and clears. For a split second, England were in a spot of bother there.
25 min: Sterling dribbles into the box down the left, but there’s no way past Di Lorenzo and Jorginho. The door slams shut, and Sterling clips Di Lorenzo in frustration.
23 min: Hungary have taken the lead in Germany. Adam Szalai the scorer. As things stand, Hungary will win Group A3.
21 min: Cristante lumps a simple pass straight out for a throw. Mancini hops up and down. The reason for that reaction a bit clearer.
19 min: It’s all a bit scrappy now. Bonucci comes through the back of Kane. On the touchline, Southgate applauds. No idea why.
17 min: Nothing comes of the corner.
16 min: Raspadori rolls the ball wide right towards Barella, who is clipped by Saka and doesn’t need too much persuading to go down. A free kick just to the side of the England box. Dimarco and Raspadori take turns to dummy, running around in absurd circles, then Dimarco finally drives low into the mixer. Poorly executed and preposterous. The ball deflects out for an Italy corner.
14 min: England have settled after that shaky start. They ping the ball about, eliciting a few whistles from the home fans. Kane cuts in from the right and tries to make things happen in a crowded box. Italy swarm and shut the door. Kane tries again down the left. No luck there, either. But this is much better from the visitors.
12 min: England recycle possession, Sterling floating one in from the left. Maguire, who had stayed up after the free kick, loops a gentle header on target. Donnarumma catches without fuss.
11 min: Foden’s delivery is no good, failing to beat the first man.
10 min: Jorginho crosses from the right. Too close to Pope, who claims without fuss. England go up the other end through Sterling, who is fouled as he makes his way down the left. Free kick. Everyone lines up on the edge of the Italian box.
8 min: San Siro isn’t full, so the atmosphere isn’t up to much, even though Italy continue to dominate possession.
6 min: England are all over the shop. Scamacca turns and drives into a huge gap in the middle of the pitch. He’s got options either side, but decides to take a shot early, and sends one screeching inches wide of the left-hand post. Not sure Pope was getting to that, had it been on target.
5 min: Italy have started very brightly. Dimarco whips in from the left. Scamacca rises above Maguire at the far stick and sends a header towards the top right. Pope desperately scoops it out from under the crossbar, and Maguire concedes a corner. England deal with that easily enough.
4 min: England are nearly undone by a simple ball down the middle. Maguire steps up, and Raspadori races clear. Raspadori pearls a shot straight at Pope, who parries well. Then the flag goes up for offside. Turns out Maguire executed the trap perfectly.
3 min: Barella finds a bit of space down the right and looks to release Dimarco on the other flank with a raking diagonal pass. The ball flies harmlessly out of play.
1 min: Cristante leaves a little something on Foden, who felt it. A bold opening gambit for a player one booking away from suspension.
England get the ball rolling. Tonight’s referee sent off Harry Maguire and Reece James the last time he took charge of an England match (against Denmark at Wembley in 2020).
Before the game, a moment of silence in memory of Queen Elizabeth II and the victims of the recent flood in Italy. Respectfully observed.
The teams are out! Italy wear their famous azure, while England sport their new World Cup kit, white with blue epaulettes. The action is just a couple of national anthems away. (God Save the King still doesn’t trip off the tongue, does it? Old habits, all that.)
Gareth Southgate talks to Channel 4: “We’re looking for a level of performance, that’s the key. It’s a great stage to come and play on, against top opposition. Harry Maguire seems in a good place with his training, and it’s not as though he’s gone ten weeks without a game. We feel there’s been a good process with Jude Bellingham, dipping his toe in the European Championship, then starting, then starting some bigger games.”
Bukayo Saka has a quick word with Channel 4. “We’ve come in pretty positive. The future is more important than the past. We can’t control the past any more. These games are very important, the last two before the World Cup, so we really want to win both of them. That’s our mentality.”
Italy have three players who are one booking away from missing next week’s game in Hungary: Bryan Cristante, Nicolò Barella and Alessandro Bastoni.
England have five players who will miss the visit of Germany should they see yellow this evening: Kyle Walker, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Jack Grealish and James Ward-Prowse.
Both teams are coming off the back of a hiding – England defeated 4-0 by Hungary, Italy spanked 5-2 in Germany – so there are plenty of changes. Gareth Southgate makes six, with Eric Dier picking up his first cap since November 2020, Harry Maguire returning despite not starting any of Manchester United’s last four Premier League matches, Nick Pope standing in for the injured Jordan Pickford, and Declan Rice, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden also starting. Roberto Mancini makes seven changes, with Chelsea midfielder Jorginho returning, and West Ham striker Gianluca Scamacca taking the place of the injured Ciro Immobile.
Italy: Donnarumma, Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Acerbi, Toloi, Cristante, Jorginho, Dimarco, Raspadori, Scamacca, Barella.
Subs: Meret, Vicario, Luiz Felipe, Pobega, Frattesi, Gnonto, Emerson, Zerbin, Grifo, Gabbiadini, Esposito, Bastoni.
England: Pope, James, Dier, Maguire, Walker, Bellingham, Rice, Sterling, Foden, Saka, Kane.
Subs: Ramsdale, D Henderson, Trippier, Shaw, Grealish, Coady, Ward-Prowse, Tomori, Mount, Bowen, Alexander-Arnold, Abraham.
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano (Spain).
The last time England played, this happened …
… so, well, y’know. In fact, England are on a skid of four matches without a win, having made an awful mess of Nations League Group A3 so far. Home and away losses against Hungary, a fortunate draw in Germany, and some goalless tedium in Wolverhampton against Italy have rooted Gareth Southgate’s side to the bottom of the table. If they lose at San Siro tonight, they’ll be cashiered from the top tier with extreme prejudice. In other words, it’s gameface time. Kick off is at 7.45pm BST. It’s on!