England suffered the ignominy of relegation from the Nations League First Division after a tepid defeat to Italy sparked fresh 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 turned sour for Gareth Southgate’s side of late.
England failed to win any of their four June matches and produced a soft response to their 4-0 maiming of Molineux against Hungary, with Giacomo Raspadori sealing Roberto Mancini’s Italy a 1-0 win on Friday night.
A fifth game in a row without a win means Southgate’s men have been relegated from Nations League Group A – a competition in which they finished third three years ago – with one game to spare.
The demotion is embarrassing, but the performance is arguably more concerning given there are only 59 days left until their 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 managed to be even more dismal as England struggled against the absent Azzurri.
It didn’t get any better from the visitors’ point of view as Italy, who won’t be in Qatar, held them at bay and took the win thanks to Raspadori’s fine effort.
Southgate’s side lacked the required ruthlessness on the eve of a meeting at the San Siro which ends in more questions than answers, with just Monday’s home game against Germany ahead of the World Cup .
Bukayo Saka, named England Men’s Player of the Year earlier today, has been deployed at left-back to the San Siro, where Eric Dier won his first cap since November 2020 from six changes from lowly Hungary.
Harry Maguire was another brought in and the underprivileged Manchester United captain’s name was chanted by the 4,415 traveling fans in an expression of support that followed Southgate’s public support on Thursday.
The 29-year-old settled in after a shaky start as Italy started with the front foot, Gianluca Scamacca beating him too easily to a deep Federico Dimarco cross from the right.
A combination of Nick Pope, replacing the injured Jordan Pickford, and the woodwork denied the West Ham striker’s powerful header at his near post before the leader struck from long range.
England put down that storm and started enjoying periods of possession, but without injecting creativity and excitement into their game.
Cumbersome with the ball, there was little to note in terms of chances beyond Jude Bellingham’s strike into the ground and Harry Kane striking from distance.
Luckily, there was no added time at the end of a miserable first half.
Dier produced an important block and Reece James unfortunately overshot a well-placed free-kick after Leonardo Bonucci tripped Raheem Sterling on the edge of the box.
Phil Foden threw his hands in the air in frustration as Kane shot from a sharp angle as he was free at the back post as the visitors’ rambling display continued.
England were lucky that a mix of the offside flag and Nicolo Barella’s poor finish kept them from falling behind in the 57th minute after Dimarco was released to send an accurate cross to the far post .
The game had now become ragged and stretched, rocking back and forth without much quality. Rafael Toloi kept Saka from reaching a cross from Kane before fierce driving from substitute Wilfried Gnonto forced a fine block.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 68th minute when the Azzurri struck.
Bonucci’s long ball put Raspadori behind Kyle Walker, the striker keeping his composure before sending a fine shot past Pope just inside the box.
Kane forced Gianluigi Donnarumma to a double save as England chased down a leveler, with former Southampton striker Manolo Gabbiadini seeing a shot saved by Pope at the other end before Dimarco’s cross shot hit a post.
Declan Rice saw a hopeful stoppage time effort saved and Bellingham cruised to victory for Italy, leaving the traveling hordes visibly frustrated at full time.