England’s Under 21s left Italy with a creditable victory that will do wonders for Rhian Brewster and present something of a blueprint when faced with top opposition at next summer’s European Championship.
England always cruise through their qualifying campaign but struggle at major tournaments and this camp – beating Italy with Germany to come next week – is offering Lee Carsley an opportunity to tinker game plans to hurt more technical teams.
Carsley’s side were less obsessed with dominating possession and picked their moments, racing into a two-goal lead – both courtesy of Brewster but with the returning Conor Gallagher’s fingerprints all over them.
Gallagher won the penalty within 66 seconds, tripped after gathering Cole Palmer’s shot, before Brewster stroked home. The Sheffield United striker had not scored since January, last season curtailed with a lengthy hamstring injury, and he revelled in the moment.
Brewster was peeling away in delight shortly after too. Playing just off the front, Gallagher’s intensity turned over possession and then a cute defence-splitting pass by Angel Gomes set Brewster clear. With newfound confidence, he dinked the goalkeeper. Brewster only had one goal in 16 caps at this level beforehand.
Levi Colwill hit the post and Gallagher might have added a third, his effort hacked off the line by Caleb Okoli, while Italy fashioned decent chances during a cantankerous friendly – Nicolo Rovella saw red in the closing minutes – between two nations who should fancy themselves at the Euros.
Brewster saved a certain goal on the line, with Andrea Cambiaso skewing a free header and Joe Bursik standing tall to deny Pietro Pellegri.
England had to later dig in, blocking shots and defending resolutely without Bursik ever truly having to pull off big saves. They had ceded a fair amount of territory and looked more comfortable hitting their hosts on the break.
England (3-4-2-1): Bursik; Cresswell, Harwood-Bellis (Mbete 90), Colwill (Thomas 71); Spence (Aarons 71), Skipp (Garner 71), Gomes (Doyle 71), Sessegnon (Gordon 71); Palmer (Ramsey 71), Gallagher (Elliott 71); Brewster (Balogun 71)