Nazionale A

Retegui scores on debut but England win in Naples

The Three Lions triumph at the Maradona. The Tigre striker scored on debut but it – and the support of the 44,500 spectators in the stadium – wasn’t enough

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Retegui scores on debut but England win in Naples

Italy kicked off their EURO 2024 qualifying campaign with a loss. Almost two years on from the final at Wembley, England got their revenge, beating the Azzurri by two goals to one, their first victory against Italy in Italy in 61 years. To use the cliché, it was a game of two halves; the Three Lions dominated the first 45 minutes but the Azzurri were much the better side after the break, scoring through Retegui on debut. But it – and the support from the 44,500 spectators at the Stadio Maradona – wasn’t enough as goals from Rice and Kane secured all three points for Southgate’s side. The Tottenham striker also made history tonight, overtaking Wayne Rooney to become England’s all-time leading goalscorer.

THE GAME. It was Italy’s first match in 2023 and the first since the passing of Gianluca Vialli, who was honoured before the game with a special display and also with a marking on the inside of the collar of the Azzurri’s shirts. The 3-5-2 formation, which saw so much success in the Nations League, was put on ice and Italy went with the 4-3-3 that took Italy to the European title. With Immobile and his backup Raspadori, Mancini turned to young Mateo Retegui, handing him his debut as he started in the middle of the attacking trident alongside Pellegrini and Berardi. A midfield three of Jorginho, Verratti and Barella was the same as the one that started the final at Wembley, while it was a new-look back four of Spinazzola, Acerbi, Toloi and Di Lorenzo. Mount and Rashford were both missing for England but the Three Lions have such a wealth of options at their disposal. Southgate picked Rice, Phillips and Bellingham in midfield, while the inimitable Harry Kane started up top, flanked by Grealish and Saka. The Arsenal winger, who has been in red-hot form this season, had a score to settle with Italy after missing a penalty in the shootout in the final of EURO 2020.

It was Saka who had the first chance of the game but Donnarumma had no trouble dealing with his effort (8’). Five minutes later, Gigio had a more difficult save to make as he sprung to his left to keep Bellingham’s effort out. But disaster befell the Azzurri at the following corner as Kane’s blocked shot fell to Declan Rice, who turned it home to give England the lead. Italy tried to up the ante and put the pressure on Southgate’s men but England escaped the press. All the while, Grealish and Saka were causing the Azzurri a host of problems down the flanks. On the half-hour mark, Phillips came close to doubling the Three Lions’ lead with a low, driven effort, which whistled just past the post. Italy were struggling to get at Pickford’s goal and to get the ball to Retegui’s feet. England got their second goal in the 44th minute, again stemming from a corner; following a VAR review, a penalty was awarded to England for a handball by Di Lorenzo, which Kane convert to become England’s all-time leading goalscorer, surpassing Wayne Rooney. One minute later, Grealish missed a huge chance to put the game beyond all doubt.

Italy’s first real chance of the game fell four minutes into the second half as Pellegrini sent his effort over the crossbar. In the 56th minute, the Azzurri got themselves back into it. The goal was scored by the man everyone was talking about, Retegui, who rifled home following a brilliant ball from Pellegrini. After 45 minutes with barely a kick, the Tigre striker showed he has a keen eye for goal. Mancini then sent on Cristante and Politano in place of Barella and Berardi. The Azzurri were brimming with confidence and began to press hard for an equaliser as England dropped deeper and deeper into their own half.

Tonali and Gnonto also came on for Pellegrini and Jorginho, while Grealish made way for Foden for the guests. Italy were in the ascendency and looked full of determination. Ten minutes from time, England went down to ten men; a heavy challenge from Shaw on Retegui saw referee Jovanovic brandish a second yellow card, though not without some hesitation. Mancini shuffled the pack late on, sending Scamacca into the fray, but England held out for the win – Southgate’s first against Italy. The Azzurri are back on Sunday when they take on Malta away in Ta’Qali – Malta lost 2-1 to North Macedonia tonight in the other game in the group.