Townsend lifts Turin cloud with thunderbolt
Italy 1 England 1
Published 01/04/2015 | 02:30
The focus was always going to be on a Tottenham Hotspur attacker in the Juventus Stadium - and so it proved.
Andros Townsend helped England reach the 2014 World Cup finals and has now rescued their unbeaten record since Brazil with a splendid equaliser.
Townsend's club-mate, Harry Kane, worked hard but found Italy's defence too unyielding, especially the superb Giorgio Chiellini, and England's first-half tactics too limiting.
It was only when Roy Hodgson started fielding players in their best positions, withdrawing Phil Jones into defence, inserting Michael Carrick into midfield, unleashing Ross Barkley in the hole and at last bringing some width with Townsend, that England looked a force capable of troubling Italy.
The first half was pretty wretched for England, who deservedly fell behind to Graziano Pelle's flicked header. But the second half was a marked improvement. There were proud moments for Ryan Mason, who made his debut, and for his fellow Spur Townsend, who drilled in his third goal in his seventh international.
After seven wins on the spin, this draw reminded England of the quality of opposition that will lurk at Euro 2016, but also showed they have options. The second half provided hope.
England had retreated to their dressing room at the break, knowing that their system was not working. England have used the diamond to good effect this season, but the qualities of certain individuals, such as Theo Walcott and Jones, simply did not suit their roles. It was a bemusing decision by Hodgson, one that was eventually abandoned.
Walcott's pace was wasted, the Arsenal flier having no space to work in when deployed up top. It is a role he covets with his club but he inflicts more damage when racing down the right.
England were painfully too narrow, relying on their full-backs for any width. Wayne Rooney was at the tip of the diamond, trying to get England sparkling, but he was either closed down quickly or the movement was not intelligent enough around him.
Rooney looked more effective when partnering Kane with Barkley in behind in the second half.
The sight of Jones in central midfield must have startled the 2,000 travelling supporters. Jones struggled at anchorman, playing a few simple passes, but otherwise labouring against more sophisticated opponents.
He was also badly caught out for Italy's goal and really looked comfortable only when dropping back to centre-half when Carrick came on for the injured Chris Smalling.
All eyes had been on Kane, making his first start. A goalscoring cameo off the bench at home against Lithuania was little preparation for Italy away.
The problem Kane endured was a lack of service. England kept giving the ball away, in contrast to the more measured, cerebral hosts. Italy were supposedly depleted yet their players' innate ease in possession was clear. In a 10th-minute move the ball was guided elegantly between Pelle and Marco Parolo, who picked out the excellent Matteo Darmian on the left.
Darmian's ball back in was met powerfully by Parolo, whose fierce 25-yard drive was tipped over by Joe Hart.
England were unimpressive, managing only a couple of decent attacking moments before the break. Fabian Delph hoisted a cross to the far post, and Kane headed back. Walcott failed to make contact and the ball spilt back to Rooney, whose shot clipped a defender and hit the bar.
Jordan Henderson then went close with a shot after good work by Nathaniel Clyne. It was a bitty, shapeless half from England.
Just before the half-hour, Italy exploited lax English defending to score. It will not be a moment that Jones will relish looking back on. Chiellini sprinted past him, and was confident enough in his less-favoured right foot to deliver a magnificent cross. Pelle ran to meet the ball and flick it past Hart. It was the least Italy deserved.
Hodgson eventually tweaked his blunt attack, Walcott and Rooney switching. The Arsenal player dropped into the hole.
Smalling's injury two minutes before the break brought Carrick into midfield, and saw a relieved Jones stepping back into defence. He has been the victim of his perceived versatility for too long and needs cementing in one position, at centre-back. Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has realised that. Hodgson should do, too.
England's manager made another change at the interval, sending on Kyle Walker for Clyne, while Barkley's introduction for Walcott gave England more balance, and some creativity at the point of the diamond.
There were still more scares and Hart did well to save from Eder after more enterprising work from Darmian.
England at least had some more focus, more adventure, and Kane and Rooney combined to guide Kieran Gibbs in but the full-back found only the side-netting. Barkley embarked on some neat runs. Rooney unleashed a drive that Gianlugi Buffon parried. Kane crossed, and Rooney just failed to turn the ball past Buffon.
Italy were dangerous on the break and Jones did well to cover back and snuff out the threat of Ciro Immobile.
Townsend had come on for Delph, bringing some welcome width, and a Tottenham team-mate arrived for Henderson. The pair combined with 11 minutes left, Mason finding Townsend, whose drive from the edge of the area flew past Buffon.
England were invigorated, looking far sharper. Rooney and Barkley linked well. Rooney almost scored, running on to a ball over the top but unable to beat Buffon. (© Daily Telegraph, London)