Joe Hart

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.

 

Manchester City 1-2 CSKA Moscow (Toure ‘8; Doumbia ‘2, ’34)

Sparks flew in an explosive night on a bad tempered bonfire night clash where Manchester City ended the contest with nine men looks to have left their dreams of qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League in tatters.

Fernandinho, who came on as a half-time substitute, received yellow cards in the 62nd and 70th minute in a mad eight minutes for the midfielder.

Yaya Toure was shown his marching orders nine minutes before the end for stupidly shoving Roman Eremenko when the CSKA Moscow man disposessed him.

Toure was already on a yellow that he picked up 16 minutes earlier but his push merited a straight red.

A brace from Seydou Doumbia either side of Toure’s free-kick provided goals in an eventful evening at the Etihad.

Doumbia, who scored both of CSKA’s goals in the 5-2 defeat the last time these two met at the Etihad, opened the scoring with just two minutes played when he headed home Bribas Natkho’s free-kick.

His effort, coming after just 90 seconds, is the quickest goal of this season’s competition so far.

Toure levelled the scores with his first goal in nine Champions League outings six minutes later but Doumbia hit back again with 34 minutes on the clock.

Five of Doumbia’s 10 Champions League goals have now come against City.

Pontus Wernbloom, who was shown a yellow card after 28 minutes, pulled back Sergio Aguero 77 minutes on the clock but Sergei Ignashevich was booked instead in a case of mistaken identity on a night where very little went in City’s favour.

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Kompany, Clichy, Navas (Nasri ’45), Toure, Fernando (Dzeko ’65), Milner, Jovetic (Fernandinho ’45), Aguero

Subs not used: Cabellero, Sagna, Boyata, Mangala

Yellow Cards: Fernandinho ’62, Toure ’65, Aguero ‘89

Red Cards: Fernandino ’70, Toure ‘81

CSKA Moscow: Akinfeev, Fernandes, Ignashevich, V.Berezutski, Schennikov, Wernbloom, Dzagoev (Efremov ‘86), Eremenko, Natcho, Musa, Doumbia (Milanov ’66)

Subs not used: Chepchugov, Berezoutski, Nababkin, Cauna, Bazelyuk

Yellow Cards: Wernbloom ’28, Ignashevitch ’77, Eremenko ‘79

Red Cards: None

Man of the Match: Seydou Doumbia

Manchester City 4-1 Tottenham

Four goals from Sergio Aguero secured three points for his side to ensure Manchester City kept up the pressure on league leaders Chelsea.

Two of his goals were penalties while the others were delicious finishes into the bottom corner past a despairing Hugo Lloris.

The Argentine also had another spot kick saved in an encounter that saw four penalties awarded in total by referee John Moss.

Visitors Tottenham were too handed an opportunity to score from 12 yards but a normally reliable Roberto Soldado was denied by Joe Hart in the second half.

Sergio Aguero will take all the headlines though and deservedly so with a spell-binding performance that began with an effort that he lashed past Lloris with 13 minutes played.

He had his second six minutes later when he sent Lloris the wrong way from the spot following a debatable foul on Frank Lampard by Erik Lamela.

It was three for the 26-year-old with 68 minutes on the clock, scoring his second penalty goal after three attempts after Federico Fazio pulled him down in the box, the defender was sent off for his misdemeanour.

Aguero’s fourth came 15 minutes before the end in similar fashion to his first, gliding a shot past the hapless Lloris.

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Despite the convincing looking scoreline Tottenham did put up a good fight against the champions. Hart needed to save low to deny Ryan Mason eight minutes in.

Cristian Eriksen’s goal materialised a quarter of an hour in after Soldado robbed a dallying Fernando in midfield and the Spaniard teed up Eriksen who smashed home first time past Hart off the underside of the bar 139 seconds after his side went behind.

Manchester City: Hart, Clichy, Demichelis, Kompany, Sagna, Milner, Lampard (Fernandinho ’28), Fernando (Toure ’77), Navas, Silva (Jovetic ’70), Aguero

Subs not used: Caballero, Kolarov, Boyata, Dzeko

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Dier, Fazio, Kaboul, Rose, Capoue (Dembele ’60), Mason (Vertonghen ’70), Chadli, Eriksen, Lamela (Townsend ’60) Soldado

Subs not used: Vorm, Stambouli, Adebayor, Kane

Man of the Match: Sergio Aguero

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)

Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City

Title contenders Arsenal and Manchester City battled to a 2-2 draw at the Emirates stadium, three of the four goals coming in the second half.

Sergio Aguero gave Manchester City the lead 28 minutes into the game when he arrived on the edge of the six yard box to nip in and score from Jesus Navas’ pass.

Nacho Monreal, who kept his place despite Kieran Gibbs’ return from injury was at fault as Navas was given acres of space on the right hand side.

Jack Wilshere tied the game up just after the hour, providing the finishing touch to a typical Arsenal build up of neat passing play. Wilshere gilded past Gael Clichy and dinked the ball over Joe Hart after a one-two with Aaron Ramsey.

Alexis Sanchez completed the second half turnaround 16 minutes before the end, superbly volleying in a Wilshere header after Ramsey’s cross wasn’t dealt with efficiently enough by Vincent Kompany.

Martin Demichelis ensured City went back to Manchester with a share of the spoils however when he headed home a corner seven minutes from time, being left unmarked by the Arsenal defence.

Jack the lad: Wilshere equalizes for Arsenal

Jack the lad: Wilshere equalizes for Arsenal

 

Manchester City had chances to win the game in the closing stages, putting the Gunners under the pressure with a late flurry and even had the ball in the back of the net, but Samir Nasri was offside.

Their best opportunity however was shortly after their opener but David Silva’s effort was well kept out by Wojciech Szczesny but in reality, the Spaniard should have put his side further ahead.

Arsene Wenger will be happy that his side picked up a point today as Arsenal’s record against the top four was poor last season but a late injury to Mathieu Debuchy could be a severe one and it will have left a sour taste in the mouth of his manager.

Debuatant Danny Welbeck was also replaced on 88 minutes due to injury.

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy (Chambers ’81), Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini (Arteta ’90), Wilshere, Ramsey, Alexis, Ozil, Welbeck (Oxlade-Chamberlain ’88)

Subs not used: Ospina, Gibbs, Cazorla, Podolski

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho (Kolarov ’77), Lampard (Nasri ’45), Navas, Silva, Milner, Aguero (Dzeko ’67)

Subs not used: Caballero, Sagna, Mangala, Sinclair

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

Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool

Champions Manchester City continued their 100% start to the season thanks to a 3- 1 win over Liverpool, a Stevan Jovetic braced and one from Sergio Aguero sealed the points for City.

Debut defender Alberto Moreno was at fault, failing to clear his lines, dallying while Stefan Jovetic seized on Moreno’s hesitancy and smashed home through Simon Mignolet’s legs four minutes before the break.

Moreno fell asleep for the second as well, as Samir Nasri’s squared pass from the right hand side of the box was tapped home by Jovetic but City’s build up play deserves some plaudits.

A flamboyant flick from Jovetic teed up Nasri who returned the favour, picking out the Montenegro man whose shot was just out of reach of Glen Johnson on the line in the tenth minute of the second half.

Aguero’s steady return to the Manchester City fold continued due to his World Cup commitments, coming on as a 68th substitute but his introduction to the score sheet was anything but slow.

20 seconds after coming on, the little Argentine burst onto fellow substitute Jesus Navas’ through ball, leaving the high lined Liverpool defence in his wake, taking one touch and then slotting past Mignolet who was caught in no man’s land.

Rickie Lambert did add faint consolation for the visitors, bundling in his first goal in the colours of his boyhood team when his original shot from Daniel Sturridge’s cross was saved with 83 minutes played.

Liverpool almost halved the deficit but Lambert’s decision to attempt a squared pass to Sturridge instead of taking a shot at goal allowed Vincent Kompany to deal with the situation and an intriguing climax was thwarted.

Brendan Rodgers’ side rarely threatened despite their goal but Sturridge did come relatively close with a fizzing shot that need palming away by Hart, denying the England striker a goal at the club he began his career at.

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernando, Yaya Toure, Nasri, Silva (Navas ’65) Jovetic (Fernandinho ’80), Dzeko (Aguero ’69)

Subs not used: Caballero, Sagna, Kolarov, Milner

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Moreno, Skrtel, Lovren, Gerrard, Henderson, Allen (Can ’74), Coutinho (Markovic ’60) Sterling (Lambert ’79), Sturridge

Subs not used: Jones, Manquillo, Sakho, Kolo Toure

Man of the match: Stevan Jovetic

Community Shield report: Arsenal 3-0 Manchester City

Arsenal became the first FA Cup holders to win the traditional curtain raiser that is the Community Shield since Chelsea in 2009 with a 3-0 win over Premier League Champions Manchester City. Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud provided the goals at Wembley.

Cazorla opened the scoring with 21 minutes on the clock when he nestled in a left foot from the edge of the box after advantage was played following Drederick Boyata’s foul on Jack Wilshere.

Spain International Cazorla, 29, scored Arsenal’s first goal in May’s FA Cup final and now has another Wembley goal to his collection.

The scorer of the winning FA Cup goal, Aaron Ramsey, doubled their lead three minutes before half time when he drilled in a shot from six yards past Willy Cabellero after a nice touch away from Matija Nastastic. Yaya Sanogo’s hold up play against Boyata was exemplary as he set up Ramsey.

Super Santi: Cazorla opens the scoring at Wembley

Super Santi: Cazorla opens the scoring at Wembley

Half time substitute Olivier Giroud made sure of the victory  on the hour mark with a long range strike that deflected off Nastasic and dipped over the despairing debutant Caballero.

Manchester City were limited to chances in the first half with the centre back pairing of Calum Chambers and Laurent Koscielny not allowing any direct shots on the Arsenal goal.

Mathieu Debuchy was less impressive however with City regularly having joy down the left flank, most notably when Alexandar Kolarov broke clear of Debuchy but his squared pass was just behind the on rushing Samir Nasri to trouble Wojciech Szczesny.

Things barely improved in the second 45, only Stefan Jovetic came relatively close when his shot was palmed away by Szczesny 56 minutes in.

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Koscielny (Monreal ’45), Chambers, Gibbs, Arteta, Wilshere (Flamini ’68), Ramsey (Campbell ’85), Alexis (Oxlade-Chamberlain ’45), Cazorla (Rosicky ’70), Sanogo (Giroud ’45)

Subs not used: Martinez

Manchester City: Caballero, Clichy, Boyata, Nastasic, Kolarov (Richards ’76), Navas (Sinclair ’85), Fernando, Toure (Zuculini ’60), Nasri (Silva ’45), Jovetic, Dzeko (Milner ’60)

Subs not used: Hart, Rekik

Man of the match: Olivier Giroud

 

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?

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.