Defoe goal clinches England's 2-1 win over Euro enemy Italy
Another victory in the bag for Roy Hodgson as World Cup 2014 qualifiers loom
THE Stade de Suisse in Berne was barely half full, and many big names were missing from the pitch, but England managed to defeat Italy 2-1 in last night's friendly in neutral Switzerland.
Unlike the last time these two teams met, in the quarter-final of Euro 2012, there were goals on show.
Jermain Defoe's winner was a cracker that he later dedicated to his cousin who was killed last month in a car crash. "That goal was for my cousin who died in St Lucia," explained the Spurs striker. "It would have been her (21st) birthday on Wednesday."
Ashley Young was the only survivor in the starting line-up from that Euro quarter-final defeat two months ago as manager Roy Hodgson fielded a mixture of youth and experience in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The midfield contained veterans Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick while five players were making their full debut, including Tottenham's Jake Livermore, Tom Cleverley of Manchester United and Birmingham's Jack Butland, who at 19 years and 158 days became England's youngest ever goalkeeper.
Butland was soon busy, picking the ball out of his net on 16 minutes after Daniele De Rossi had headed home Alessandro Diamanti's corner. A little over ten minutes later England equalised in similar fashion as Phil Jagielka found himself unmarked to nod the ball past Salvatore Sirigu.
Both sides made a raft of substitutions in the second half as the neutrals in the Swiss stadium began to lose interest in the encounter. But it was one of the replacements, Defoe on for Andy Carroll, who suddenly brought the game back to life on 79 minutes. Seconds after Ryan Bertrand had cleared off his own line, James Milner launched a counter-attack that culminated in Defoe cutting inside his marker and thumping a fierce shot into the top corner of the Italian net.
The victory means that Hodgson's England have yet to be defeated in open play after seven matches, their only defeat coming in the penalty shootout to Italy. "The goal was spectacular, a great way to win the game," said Hodgson later. "That is Jermain's forte, something he can do."
Despite the victory, Hodgson is well aware that greater tests lie ahead – and soon. England travel to Moldova in three weeks for the first of their 2014 World Cup qualifiers and the following week they host the Ukraine in another match they must win if they wish to make it to Brazil in two years' time.
"I'm happy with the way we responded to that challenge and the performance we gave," said Hodgson. "It's the qualifiers that really count but it's nice to know we have a deeper squad of players than that we took to the Euros."