England v Italy: History against Three Lions but Germany victory offers hope
ABBA’S classic hit Name of the Game was riding high at number one in the UK charts on the last occasion that England triumphed over Italy at Wembley – way back in November, 1977.
It was an occasion when the Azzurri lost, but still had the last laugh. Victory is the only name of the game tomorrow.
That particular success over Enzo Bearzot’s side was inspired by an unquenchable performance from one of Yorkshire’s most famous sporting sons in Doncaster’s Kevin Keegan.
Keegan’s trademark telepathy with Trevor Brooking yielded an 11th-minute opener and the pair combined again late on, with the latter this time finding the net.
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The performance clinched the full-time manager’s job for Ron Greenwood, but an Italian side, including greats such as Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile, Marco Tardelli and Roberto Bettega need not have worried.
Italy who had won 2-0 in the earlier reverse fixture in Rome, required just a 1-0 victory in their final group fixture with Luxembourg to seal a passage to the 1978 World Cup, which they comfortably did while England stayed at home on goal difference.
Four matches with the Italians on home soil since – including a friendly at Elland Road in 2002 – have failed to yield a win.
Overall, in the countries’ last 14 meetings, England have prevailed just twice.
The last time arrived in the Swiss city of Berne in August, 2012 in a game to mark the 30th anniversary of Italy’s World Cup win in 1982, with Jermaine Defoe hitting a late winner in a 2-1 success, with ex-Sheffield United defender Phil Jagielka earlier netting his first goal for England.
As is the case when inspecting England’s modern-day statistics against Italy, there is a caveat.
Just 52 days before that meeting, the countries had met in a Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev with Italy triumphing 4-2 on penalties – in a shoot-out remembered for the ever-graceful Andrea Pirlo’s sublime ‘Panenka’ finish, coolness from Mario Balotelli and misses by Ashley Young and Ashley Cole.
The mercurial Balotelli and Pirlo also excelled in the oppressive heat of the Amazon jungle in Manaus when England again came up a little short in the quality stakes in their last tournament clash with Italy – a World Cup finals Group D opener in June, 2014 which the Italians won 2-1.
England’s finest hour against Italy in modern times arrived in Rome back in October 1997 when qualification was assured for the 1998 World Cup with a heroic 0-0 draw, complete with images of a bandaged Paul Ince.
Eight months earlier, Gianfranco Zola netted the only goal at Wembley as England suffered the first loss of the Glenn Hoddle era
Another future England manager in Fabio Capello dined out at the country’s expense much earlier, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 friendly win for the Gianni Rivera-inspired visitors in London in November, 1973, in Bobby Moore’s final appearance for his country.
In truth, England’s record against Italy is every bit as dismal as it was against Germany before the events of Wembley just 11 days ago.
In that regard, the Three Lions maybe possess a spot of hope. You cling to anything you can.