England

Anyone picking Joe in goal is now going with their Hart instead of their Head

An opinion piece questioning Joe Hart’s goalkeeping, just a day after England dropped points against its oldest enemy may attract accusations of being reactionary, if only that was the case.

The reality is that the last year and a bit has included one problem after another for the previously undisputed Manchester City and England number one.

Pep Guardiola being announced as the forthcoming City manager, on February 1, got the ball rolling, and the momentum has got faster as time has gone on, most recently culminating in the 30-year-old letting two really quite saveable free-kicks past him in as many minutes in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Scotland.

Euro 2016 was the first real on-pitch indication that the Hart was starting to break with England unceremoniously dumped out of the competition in France as early as the Round of 16 stage, against Iceland.

Not all the blame can be aimed at the goalkeeper, of course, but the Three Lions did concede four goals in their four matches against Russia, Wales, Slovakia and Iceland and a case could be made that Hart was at fault for all of them.

A looping header caught him off guard in the Russia draw, Gareth Bale’s free-kick from miles out squirmed under him and then a long throw-in that caught Hart out followed by another tame shot that seemed to go through him led to Iceland eliminating England.

Regardless of his Euro 2016 showing, Hart was probably departing City anyway, given Guardiola’s insistence on a ball-playing keeper, and Hart was duly loaned to Serie A outfit Torino. In his own words, to Soccer AM: “The management didn’t want me, so I had to go somewhere else.

“Obviously he (Guardiola) had different ideas. The manager who came in came in with a lot of experience, an awful lot of medals and I know the club worked really hard to have him in charge of the football club.

“Unfortunately, football is a game of opinions. His opinions weren’t too great on me, I kind of smelled that when I came in. That’s life, that’s football.”

Hart’s replacement at City, Claudio Bravo, had a disastrous campaign of his own but he was only ever a temporary option for Pep and his side, given that Barcelona’s other keeper, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, was the one he really wanted with Manuel Neuer, who he coached at Bayern Munich, never a realistic option.

Given Bravo’s below-par bedding in period, City fans and neutral pundits alike were calling for the return of the ousted Hart, but only by those that were not watching his performances in Turin.

Life in Italy was tough, and gaffe-ridden for Hart who dropped, in some cases literally, clangers against the likes of Inter Milan, Atalanta and Crotone.

Judging goalkeepers by statistic is difficult in the nicest terms, and downright inaccurate in the worst. Torino having the second-worst defence in the Italian top flight is not a direct correlation to Hart’s form, or lack thereof, and nor, really, is a poor shot-to-save ratio.

Hart’s inclusion in the Serie A ‘Flop of the Season’ XI is a damning indictment though and established Italian football writer James Horncastle quipping: “Torino couldn’t believe they had landed England’s number one. Over the course of the season, they realised why”, sums it up better than most.

Once done with England duty, Hart will return to Manchester, but if he even gets to the stage of taking his coat off and hanging it up on his dressing room peg, he can call that a victory as City’s £35 million signing of Benfica’s Ederson kicks him through the door that was already more than ajar.

While his time at his club comes to an end, Hart is also at risk of a bypass at international level. Jack Butland may have missed the majority of the 2016-17 season through injury but in his games since recovery he seems back on track while Jordan Pickford was widely considered to be the best goalkeeper in the country last season, despite Sunderland’s abject relegation campaign.

“We didn’t expect so many mistakes from an England international”, was the departing shot from Torino president Urbano Cairo but currently it looks increasingly more likely that a good moment for Hart would be more surprising.

 

In Profile: Jadon Sancho

England got their Under-17 European Championship campaign off to the perfect start: with a 3-1 win over Norway. Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster netted two of the goals for the Three Lions, but he was not the man that enticed those that tuned in on Thursday afternoon.

Manchester City winger Jadon Sancho ran the show, quite literally, in Velika Gorica, Croatia.

Things looked bleak for England when they went 1-0 down as early as the eighth minute, but 17-year-old Sancho showed the character of someone well beyond his tender age, by assisting the first of Brewster’s brace just two minutes later.

Sancho did not play a direct part in the second goal, but an intuitive piece of skill got the move going that started the move that completed England’s turnaround.

Norway quickly cottoned onto the fact that Sancho was trouble, and doubled-up on the flamboyant winger, with little success, as the right-hand side of the Norwegian’s flank was under consistent scrutiny for the entire 80 minutes.

Sancho’s key attribute is obvious from the outset. Type his name into YouTube and you are inundated with ‘Amazing Skills and Dribbling’ compilation videos – the first sign that a Millennial footballer has arrived, one video even describes him as “The Future.” Maybe with good reason.

Manchester City certainly know what they have got, as three weeks before his 17th birthday, and two years after they paid Watford £500,000 for him, Sancho was offered a three-year deal to remain in Manchester following talk he missed his hometown of Kenington in south London. Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham were all ready to pounce, but had no luck.

Talk of homesickness seems strange, though, given that he describes his 2015 move to City as him “getting out of the hood” and that “bad influences were happening” around him. “If I moved, it would be better for me, to stay out of trouble”, he told the club’s YouTube channel.

“After school, it was just football, football. Other people were a bad influence on me, doing bad stuff and I just didn’t want to be around that, so there was the opportunity to come to Manchester and I’m really happy,” he continued.

Sancho wasted no time in showing his gratitude to his new club. On his debut start for the Citizens he scored two in a 6-1 demolition of Newcastle and, during the same season, he was part of a City under-16 side that went unbeaten during the 2015-16 season. While with the under-18 team Sancho scored a further five goals and ended the campaign with seven goals in four starts for Jason Wilcox’s side.

Progression has not slowed down for the tricky winger, as this season he has been training with the first-team under Pep Guardiola, in what was the latest indication on what City, and England, have got brewing.

“When I saw Pep, I just couldn’t stop smiling. When I walked on the training pitch I was very nervous, but I just remembered what my Dad said: no pressure.

“I just kept my head low and then Pep came over to me, I shook his hand, he put my arm around me and gave me great advice.

“He’s seen what I can do, he wants me to improve in certain parts, he doesn’t care if I lose the ball 1,000 times, he knows what I’m capable of.”

Guardiola is not the only one who knows what Sancho is capable of. At 16, Sancho was already heavily involved in City’s UEFA Youth League campaign, the Champions League for under-21s, playing six out of the seven games City played, and scored two goals – against Borussia Monchengladbach and Celtic in the group stages.

City were eliminated in the play-off round, against eventual winners Red Bull Salzburg on penalties, but Sancho was one of the three men in blue to bury his spot-kick.

Sancho did reach one final this season, as him and the rest of the Manchester City EDS (Elite Development Squad) got all the way FA Youth Cup final, but lost 6-2 on aggregate to Chelsea, although there is clear signs of positive work on display in the City set up.

“I think our group is so special, because we have great chemistry on and off the pitch. When on the training pitch, we take it proper seriously, like it’s a game day, that’s how all of us work so hard and get results on match days.”

Sancho is getting results on match days, and if he continues in this vein he will certainly be getting results in his career.

 

 

 

 

Jamie Vardy in many ways is the modern day Paul Gascoigne

For the first time in years England fans up and down the country exploded in joy over a goal that was scored in a friendly. Jamie Vardy’s flick at the near post past the best goalkeeper in the world Manuel Neuer was very much the kind of goal Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne would have scored, and in many ways, the two are remarkably similar.

In other ways they are nothing alike, Gascoigne was one of the best players of his generation and perhaps the most gifted to ever wear the shirt of the Three Lions while Vardy, although a remarkable success story, will never be remembered as a world class player. We will leave that to Dele Alli.

Where they do draw comparison though is the way both have them have captured a nation.

Gascoigne put smiles on football fans’ faces at a time when the sport was in the doldrums. The Geordie made his first-team debut for boyhood club Newcastle United in 1985 – the same year of the Heysel disaster, the same year as the Bradford fire disaster and four years before Hillsborough. Football in England around that time was also a period where pitch invasions were commonplace all over for reasons of violence and not those of celebration more typically seen in 2016.

Gazza’s brilliance helped provide the sort of distraction that only sport can from such dark times he also made a big contribution to the transformation of football with his dazzling displays at Italia ’90. Those tears in the semi-final against west Germany put football in a good light again and would lead to the formation of the Premier League two years later which has led to a more commercialised game but also a safer one that more traditionally welcomes families as opposed to just dads and sons.

The tears that captivated a nation: Gazza cries at Italia 90

The tears that captivated a nation: Gazza cries at Italia 90

And this is where Vardy comes in. Due to the amount of money in the Premier League the so-called ‘top’ teams dominate. Chelsea and Manchester City, who 20 years ago were not typically challenging for titles, have been crowned champions three of the last four years thanks to Russian and Abu Dhabi billionaires respectively.

This year, however, some new kids are in town: Leicester City, and Vardy is the poster boy.

While football is thankfully no longer trapped in the unmitigated horror that is constant tragedies and a fear of going to matches, the modern fan is so disillusioned with the game due to ever-increasing ticket prices and football players being multi- millionaires that the beauty has been in danger of being lost but Vardy is bringing it back.

Just over a decade ago, Vardy was playing non-league football with Stocksbridge Park Steels after being released from his beloved Sheffield Wednesday. In 2012, as England were preparing for their last European Championships, Vardy was still in the Conference with Fleetwood Town and now he is one of the top scorers in the country’s top division and will probably be on the plane to France in the summer.

People enjoy Vardy because the Leicester striker could be one of them. The man playing with mates in a park and ten years later stepping foot in the Premier League in true cliché ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff. Gascoigne is much the same, the local lad who supported and played for local club and, it would not be unfair to say, did not possess the most athletic stature, but this again endears him to the people who watched him. That could be me.

Although, to both Vardy and Gascoigne, there is a darker side.

Gascoigne has had a very troubling and very public battle with alcoholism and has admitted to being violent to now ex-wife Sheryl during their marriage whereas Vardy has been filmed being racist to a Japanese man in a casino but we don’t like to remember these events, perhaps wrongly, but such is sport. It gives us great memories and we don’t want them tarnished.

If England do the impossible and win Euro 2016 Vardy will have gone one better than Gascoigne and done the thing Gazza always dreamed of – leading England to a major tournament win.

Scotland 1-3 England (Robertson ’83, Oxlade-Chamberlain ’32, Rooney ’47, 85)

Scotland’s wait for a win over arch rivals England stretched to 15 years as two goals propels Wayne Rooney to third in England’s all-time top goal scorer list.

Goals number 45 and 46 for Rooney, coming after 101 caps, leapfrog the England captain ahead of Jimmy Greaves and he is now four away from overtaking Bobby Charlton’s record amount of 49.

His first made it two-nil two minutes into the second half following Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s opener with a low, stooping header inside the six yard box after Luke Shaw’s shot from the outside of the area was blocked before deflecting off Andy Robertson into the path of Rooney who was never going to miss.

Number two came five minutes before the end after James Milner’s pass from the right hand side of the area was cut back by half-time substitute Adam Lallana into the feet of Rooney to tap home.

Oxlade-Chamberlain initially opened the scoring with a guided header 32 minutes in.

It was a goal made in Arsenal with Oxlade-Chamberlain glancing in Jack Wilshere’s floated cross from the left.

Robertson went some way to atoning for his error that led to England’s second by scoring himself with seven minutes to go, capping off a one-two with Johnny Russell.

England were worthy of their win, dominating the display from start to finish with Chris Smalling heading over a Stewart Downing corner before Danny Welbeck was denied by David Marshall with a low drive inside the first five minutes of the match.

Scotland: Marshall (Gordon ’45), Whittaker, Robertson, R. Martin, Hanley (May ’66), Maloney (Russell ’81), Mulgrew, Brown (Fletcher ’45), C. Martin (Morrison ’45), Naismith, Anya (Bannan ’61)

Subs not used: Bryson, Berra, Dorrans, Greer, Burke, Gilks, Macleod, Forsyth, Paterson

Yellow Cards: Mulgrew ‘46

Red Cards: None

England: Forster, Clyne, Shaw (Gibbs ’66), Milner, Cahill (Jagielka ’45), Smalling, Wilshere (Barkley ’87), Downing (Lallana ’45), Welbeck (Sterling ’66), Rooney, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lambert ’79)

Subs not used: Chambers, Foster, Henderson, Walcott, Berahino

Yellow Cards: None

Red Cards: None

Roy Hodgson must start picking England squad on merit to win back belief in fans

Roy Hodgson has named his 23 man squad for England’s upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers against Estonia and San Marino and while some promising players have made the squad, there are some still waiting in the wings. 

England fans are growing ever more impatient with their national side following a poor World Cup and have shown that with their feet. Just over 40,000 turned up for a home friendly against Norway, in which England limped to a 1-0 win via a penalty against a side then 33 places below them in the FIFA World Rankings.

Saido Berahino is the top English scorer in the early stages of this Premier League season with four goals in six games but will not be joining up with the Three Lions despite Daniel Sturridge’s absence from the squad with injury.

Nathan Dyer of Swansea, who are flying high in fifth, also misses out, being snubbed by Tottenham’s Andros Townsend. Dyer has netted three goals in three games this season while Townsend has zero in two.

Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone, FA Cup finalists with Hull City last season, find themselves without a spot in the squad again as well.

Positive steps have been made however with the inclusions of Nathaniel Clyne, Kieran Gibbs and Jonjo Shelvey.

However, the inclusion of Rickie Lambert may have annoyed a few as he is mostly used as a substitute now he is at Liverpool and the former Southampton striker will be 34 when it is time to jet off to France.

England squad in full:

Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Southampton), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion), Joe Hart (Manchester City)

Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Phil Jagielka (Everton), John Stones (Everton)

Midfielders: Fabian Delph (Aston Villa), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Andros Townsend (Tottenham Hotspur), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

Forwards: Rickie Lambert (Liverpool), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Welbeck (Arsenal)

Switzerland 0-2 England

A brace from Danny Welbeck got England off to winning ways in their opening game of Euro 2016 qualification.

Arsenal’s £16 million deadline day signing from Manchester United converted Raheem Sterling’s drilled cross just before the hour mark in Basel to give the Three Lions the lead.

He doubled his and England’s tally in second half stoppage time, slotting home after being set up by Rickie Lambert who replaced England captain Wayne Rooney late on.

Rooney worked himself into some space and passed to Sterling who assisted Welbeck in what was some neat build up play by England’s front three for the opener.

In a change of formation, Roy Hodgson set England up in a diamond formation with Sterling playing behind the front two of Rooney and Welbeck who executed their working relationship from their Manchester United days in an England shirt.

Well-IN!: Welbeck wins the game for England.

Wel-IN!: Welbeck scores his first of the night.

 

The three co-operated well throughout the match and in truth their performances should have ended up with more goals. Rooney had a tame shot saved after one Sterling pass and soon after a three-on-one scenario ended in Welbeck’s squared pass being just out of reach of Sterling’s outstretched boot.

Switzerland had opportunities of their own, none closer than when substitute Josip Drmic rounded Joe Hart in the second half but some superb covering defending by Gary Cahill ensured that Hart’s sheet would remain clean.

Cahill’s commitment to the cause resembled an act that Chelsea colleague John Terry is renowned for on the football pitch.

Haris Seferovic came close too for the Swiss, this time in the first half, but his shot was saved by Hart with his feet.

Seferovic also had a second half volley well kept out by England’s number one.

Juventus right back Stephan Lichtsteiner got into the act as well but both his efforts went sailing over the bar. The first, a thumping volley from far out following a cleared corner and he later on spooned over a shot that came from Ricardo Rodriguez’s low cross across the box.

England gave as good they got however, a turn and shot from Rooney just inside the area took an awkward bounce before being saved and Phil Jones had a powerful header denied from the resulting corner.

Under fire Jack Wilshere had a chance deflected wide in what was another uninspiring performance from him, he was replaced by James Milner with 73 minutes played.

Switzerland: Sommer, Lichtsteiner, Von Bergen, Rodriguez, Djourou, Inler, Xhaka (Dzemaili ’74), Behrami, Shaqiri, Seferovic, Mehmedi (Drmic ’63)

Subs not used: Hitz, Burki, Schar, Benito, Senderos, Widmer, Frei, Stocker, Fernandes, Kasami

England: Hart, Stones, Jones (Jagielka ’77), Cahill, Baines, Henderson, Delph, Wilshere (Milner ’73), Sterling, Rooney (Lambert ’90), Welbeck

Subs not used: Forster, Rose, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Townsend

Man of the match: Danny Welbeck

Change needed for England? Again?

Following what looks to be England’s latest failing at a major tournament, there are yet again calls for major overhaul.

After the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where England crashed out in the last 16 with a 4-1 hammering by rivals Germany, the Three Lions were encouraged to base their style on the tiki-taka of Spain who went on to win the coveted trophy.

St George’s Park was built with this philosophy grained into it and the effects have been predicted to come to fruition for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

The problem now however is that tiki-taka looks tiki-toast after Spain themselves were dumped out the group stages this summer by The Netherlands and Chile.

To Roy Hodgson’s credit, England did play the positive attacking football in their opener against Italy and were arguably the better side but Uruguay was a different story as static, nervous England seemed to be back as the pressure looked to have got to them.

England need to create their own identity, possibly starting with a new Captain.

Steven Gerrard has come into particular light as the 34-year-old has probably waved goodbye to the World Cup due to his age and it did not end on a high, his header setting up Liverpool teammate Luis Suarez’s winner to all but send England home.

Liverpool’s iconic hero has been a loyal servant to his country with some fantastic highs including scoring the equalizer in England’s famous 1-5 win over Germany in 2001, scoring a brilliant goal against Trinidad and Tobago at World Cup 2006 and of course his crucial World Cup qualifying goals against the likes of Croatia for 2010 and Poland for 2014.

Along with this though, he has had his lows including a dodgy back-pass at Euro 2004 against France which led to Thierry Henry being fouled for Zinedine Zidane’s winning penalty as well as the Uruguay gaffe.

If Gerrard is replaced, either by choice through International retirement, or by force as Hodgson continues to build for the future, who could replace him?

Joe Hart: The England goalkeeper would be a popular choice among fans as he is one of few England players who has a safe spot in Hodgson’s starting eleven.

Two time Premiership winner with Manchester City, Hart, has established himself as England’s number one after Robert Green’s high profile error against the United States at the last World Cup and then number two David James has since retired.

Hart is a known leader on the pitch, often seen barking instructions from his penalty box and is refreshingly honest in interviews, something that adheres to England supporters as he is one of very few players who embodies himself among fans as “one of them”.

It is a myth that England players do not care about their national side as much as the fans but Hart is a rare example of someone who truly proves this. Perfect Captain material.

Wearing his Hart on his shoulder: England's number one.

Wearing his Hart on his sleeve: England’s number one.

Gary Cahill: John Terry’s partner in the heart of Chelsea’s defense is starting to emerge from the former England Captain’s shadow.

Since joining Stamford Bridge from Bolton in 2012, Cahill has blossomed working with Terry and has picked up plenty more England caps to boot as he ‘s built up a solid partnership with Everton’s Phil Jagielka.

Along with this, Cahill has similar personality traits to his colleague such as on-pitch leadership and an equally similar playing style. The 28-year-old is often seen putting his body on the line for his team much like Terry (“Superman” dive vs Slovenia esque) in true English lion-heart style, something the Three Lions have missed since Terry’s acrimonious departure from the national fold.

Another positive of Cahill’s, he also does not come with the baggage of John Terry with his personal life stories of affairs and racist allegations.

New kid on the block: Cahill dives in-front of a shot.

New kid on the block: Cahill dives in-front of a shot.

Wayne Rooney: Expected to be the bookies and media favourite to replace Gerrard. The England poster boy is undoubtedly the star man.

94 caps and 40 goals would be an impressive return by anyone’s standard but the main criticism of “Wazza” is that he does not turn up on the big stage.

The Manchester United forward, 28, has only scored six goals in major tournaments (four at Euro 2004 where he was just 18, one at Euro 2012 which was a header from two yards against Ukraine, and his leveler against Uruguay) – his first World Cup goal at the third attempt.

Criticism of his attitude would also be a harm to him, frequent contract issues with his club where he seems to be constantly demanding more money does not portray him in a good light.

Many also believe that we have never seen what Rooney is truly capable of, citing that if he had more drive and determination he could have been one of the best players in the world, possibly even ever.

Rooney’s rant into a camera following a 0-0 draw with Algeria at the last World Cup will also live long in the memory of many an England supporter. “Nice to see your home fans boo you, that’s what loyal support is”, is not a sentence that endears you to fans well.

Despite all this though, Rooney is still seen as the man to lead England. Why? Because he is England’s best player and, after all, isn’t that what the Captain should be?

Wayne's World: England's next captain?

Wayne’s World: England’s next captain?

Uruguay 2-1 England: Super Suarez all but eliminates England

England’s hopes of qualifying from Group D looked dashed due to to a brace from Luis Suarez either side of Wayne Rooney’s equalizer.

The Manchester United forward, 28, scored his first goal in a World Cup to level the scores with 15 minutes left when he tapped home a Glen Johnson squared pass to give England hope.

Rooney could have dragged England level earlier but shot straight at Fernando Muslera ten minutes into the second half after he knocked the ball past a La Celeste defender.

Suarez killed English dreams though when he tucked the ball past Joe Hart after Muslera’s goal-kick has flicked on by England Captain Steven Gerrard.

Suarez had earlier given Uruguay the lead when he scored a controlled header past Hart but the spine of the England team were largely at fault.

Gerrard and Jordan Henderson were caught out and allowed Nicolas Lodeiro space in midfield and teed up Edinson Cavini who easily lost Glen Johnson and FCavani’s cross was headed in by El Pistolero when Phil Jagielka failed to follow the runner.

Bolt from the Sky Blue: Star Suarez breaks England hearts.

Bolt from the Sky Blue: Star Suarez breaks England hearts.

England did show signs of promise in the first period though, Wayne Rooney curled a free-kick narrowly past the post after ten minutes and later hit the bar with a close range header from Gerrard’s free-kick.

Uruguay threatened themselves after quarter of an hour when Jagielka’s sliced clearance landed at the feet of Cristian Rodriguez who shot inches over from the edge of the box.

A low Luis Suarez corner was also blazed over from Cavani.

Daniel Sturridge had the last opportunity though when Rooney’s intelligent through ball found the Liverpool man who had his shot from a tight angle parried by Fernando Muslera at his near post.

Controversy overshadowed the match however as the stand in Uruguay Captain Diego Godin should have been sent off for putting his elbow up to Sturridge’s face in a body check. He had previously been yellow carded for a handball.

The Three Lions now need Italy to defeat both Costa Rica tomorrow and Uruguay next Tuesday while England must also beat Costa Rica themselves, relying on goal difference, to have any chance of making it to round two.

 

 

 

England 1-2 Italy: Roy’s boys lose opening match

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Italy recorded a somewhat fortunate win over an England side who dominated much of the play but ultimately came up short.

Cesare Prandelli’s side took the lead ten minutes before half time after some poor England positioning when defending a corner. White shirts crowded the box but Claudio Marchisio received the ball outside the area and plenty of time and acres of space to set himself and fire at goal. Joe Hart had no chance.

England were not behind for long however, Wayne Rooney playing in what seems to be his new position for the Three Lions, whipped in a ball on the left hand side that Daniel Sturridge tucked home from close range two minutes later.

The Azzuri regained the lead five minutes into the second half thanks to Mario Balotelli’s close range header from Antonio Candreva’s cross. Candreva darting past Leighton Baines and floating in a delivery that went over Gary Cahill and into the path of Balotelli who couldn’t really miss.

Raheem Sterling looked to have gave England the lead after just four minutes when his drive from distance rippled the net, the side netting though, disappointing many an England fan who thought they were in front.

Jordan Henderson wasn’t far away either, a swerving shot from him was palmed away well by Italy’s stand in goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.

Italy hit back with first Daniele De Rossi warming Hart’s gloves with a stinging shot that was fumbled and then Balotelli curled a shot over from far out.

A minute later and England came close again, Danny Welbeck on the right squaring the ball across goal but Andrea Barzagli slid in just before Sturridge and Italy re grouped for a corner.

Phil Jagielka saved England just before the break when Balotelli lobbed an out of position Hart but the Everton defender was there to clear it off the line. Just after that Candreva cut inside and rattled the post but England survived.

England also had a penalty claim when Welbeck was sandwiched between two Italy defenders as he attempted to reach a Sterling ball across goal.

Rooney was more of a shooting threat in the second half as he was moved into his favoured central role, first shooting narrowly wide from the edge of the area and soon after cutting inside a defender and firing wide again, should have really scored.

Ross Barkley was introduced for Welbeck with twenty five minutes left and made an immediate impact, bursting down the left, turning inside an Italian defender and having a shot palmed away by Sirigu.

Inside the last twenty minutes Glen Johnson decided to try his luck after receiving the ball from a short corner but his strike whistled wide.

England had a few last throws of the dice with free kicks from Steven Gerrard and Baines but there was no David Beckham esque moment vs Greece. Andrea Pirlo almost scored one for Italy though, smacking the bar from distance and Italy held on for the win.

World Cup Preview: England

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Possibly the first World Cup ever where England do not go into the tournament tipped as being one of the favourites, Brazil could be the start of something new for Roy’s boys.

Up and coming young stars such as Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling will all be looking to gain valuable tournament experience ahead of being future England figureheads.

England are hindered by being drawn into the so called “group of death” with 2006 World Cup winners Italy and Luis Suarez’ Uruguay and will need to hit the ground running if they have any chance of making it past the group stages.

The Azzuri are England’s first opponents and three points are needed in that or England’s second match against Uruguay if they are to progress. A win also must come against expected whipping boys Costa Rica.

Much of the attention, as ever, going into the tournament is centered on Wayne Rooney with some calling to drop the Manchester United forward.

Rooney, 28, has never scored a World Cup goal in the eight games he’s played in and must prove his undoubted ability this summer to finally show his worth when it counts for England.