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Vardy scores for quick-witted England
Just as it was going so well for Gareth Southgate and his players England had their first experience of VAR and a referee using his fingers to
make the ‘television’ sign that used to be reserved for games of charades rather than football. James Tarkowski was denied a happy ending to his England debut and, if nothing else, at least it did not take an absolute age for a decision to be made on the penalty that changed the complexion of the evening. For a few moments it had looked as if the official in charge of the monitor could not even elevate it to a position where it was visible.
It was a strange ending and, when Lorenzo Insigne tucked the 88th-minute penalty past Jack Butland, that was the first goal England had conceded in six matches. Southgate can be pretty satisfied with that record bearing mind the shutouts include games against Germany and Brazil but the England players were clearly aggrieved after being so close to another encouraging result. The protestations felt entirely pointless, unless the players hoped Deniz Aytekin, the German referee, might run back for a second look and change his mind. Unlikely, and Insigne’s penalty cancelled out Jamie Vardy’s first-half goal. Vardy 1, VAR 1.
Amid all the arguments about whether it was the correct decision – strictly speaking, treading on a player’s foot constitutes a foul, accidental or not – presumably Southgate will also note the way Federico Chiesa, one of the Italian substitutes, went past Tarkowski to create the danger in the first place. It was not the first time the Burnley defender looked uneasy, which was probably to be
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expected on his first appearance, but at this level these are the kind of moments that can count against a player. England have only two more warm-up matches before the World Cup, against Nigeria and Costa Rica, and Tarkowski’s audition was not seamless.
The late drama spared the Azzurri the ordeal of going four successive games without scoring for the first time in their history and England, in turn, were denied a second successive 1-0 victory against one of the teams they always measure themselves against. Overall, however, it was still a reasonably encouraging night from Southgate’s players. Vardy’s goal was a reminder that Harry Kane’s absence need not be a grievous setback. Raheem Sterling had one of his better England performances and Jesse Lingard justified his selection on a night when Dele Alli was left out of the starting line-up for a second straight game. The one quality England did not lack was pace going forward and that, perhaps, has been the most encouraging part of the last two friendlies without Kane.
Italy certainly provided a sterner test than the Netherlands had in Amsterdam on Friday but, when England took a 27th-minute lead, it was refreshing to see the quick thinking of Southgate’s players, in particular the alertness from Lingard to win the ball from Marco Parolo in midfield and then sense what was possible when the same player clipped Sterling’s ankles for a free-kick. As the two Italians in closest
proximity to the ball turned their backs, Lingard took the free-kick quickly out to his right to send Vardy running into the penalty
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area. The Leicester striker took a touch to steady himself and his shot was still rising as it flew inside the top corner.
Defensively, it was not quite so impressive from England and the home side were lucky, in particular, that Ciro Immobile could not apply a decisive finish from any of three chances inside the opening 16 minutes. Ashley Young might not be treated so leniently in the World Cup should he repeat his first-half challenge on Davide Zappacosta – a tackle that could easily have warranted a red card – and John Stones cannot expect to get away with his first-half mistakes.
Stones’ tendency to find problems that do not really exist
is nothing new but it was still startling to see the way, twice in the opening three minutes, his carelessness left Immobile in a dangerous area. The second occasion was particularly alarming as Stones dithered, got his feet tangled up and gave the ball to his opponent, as the last man. Stones is coming up for 24 and, by now, should have grown out of these lapses of concentration.
He later had to go off, having taken a ball to the face, and in fairness
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to the Manchester City player it was once he had been removed that the team started to look vulnerable again. Southgate also gave Lewis Cook his debut as a substitute but the night will be remembered, ultimately, because of the late controversy and
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perhaps it was a useful lesson for England when the same technology will be in use at the
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