A spectacular Lorenzo Insigne free kick gave dominant Italy a 1-0 victory over England in the European Under-21 Championship opener.
The Azzurrini began their tournament against Stuart Pearce’s Young Lions in Tel Aviv. Elsewhere in Group A, Israel drew 2-2 with 10-man Norway. Liverpool striker Fabio Borini had a surprise start with Genoa’s Ciro Immobile, while Insigne shook off an ankle problem to play with PSG talent Marco Verratti. Wilfried Zaha was only fit for the bench, plus Tom Ince and Danny Rose were suspended for England.
Italy are the most successful nation in the history of this tournament, winning five times in 1992, ’94, ’96, 2000 and 2004.
Immobile had a great chance after nine minutes when his angled drive flashed across the face of goal, skimming the back post. Alessandro Florenzi’s shot was charged down at the near stick and Nathaniel Clyne ran a huge risk with his goalkeeper flying out, scrambling back to clear before Insigne could deposit into an empty net.
Insigne had another fantastic opportunity when he combined with Immobile to break free down the left, but Jack Butland rushed off his line and did just enough to put him off, the finish landing on the roof of the net.
Jason Lowe and Insigne fired just wide, while Under-21 debutant Nathan Redmond blasted over after dribbling past Luca Caldirola.
Florenzi had penalty appeals after Jack Robinson’s clumsy tackle, but the French referee waved play on. Insigne had found him with an inspired pass after going on the counter and Robinson did not get the ball, so the Azzurri were denied a clear spot-kick.
Straight after the restart Connor Wickham had the ball in the net, but only after he’d been flagged offside.
It was only a warning, as moments later the Azzurrini failed to clear from a corner and Craig Dawson prodded in from point-blank range. However, England’s celebrations were cut short by the referee due to a Steven Caulker push on Matteo Bianchetti.
Immobile’s daisy-cutter was wide before he made way for Bologna forward Manolo Gabbiadini. Butland beat away a Borini header at the back post from Florenzi’s cross, then survived a couple of howlers in quick succession when the goalkeeper missed a corner and aimed a clearance straight at Borini.
Insigne went clear on a dinked Verratti free kick, but failed to connect with an acrobatic volley.
There was more controversy when Clyne hauled down Gabbiadini and the referee opted for a free kick on the edge of the box, even though the contact continued as they fell in the area. It proved decisive anyway, as Napoli starlet Insigne curled a magnificent free kick over the wall and into the near top corner. England had not conceded in their previous nine matches, keeping a clean sheet for 889 minutes of football.
Redmond was one of the only bright sparks for England and blasted over from distance. Francesco Bardi's only real save of the game was with the last kick, parrying a Henderson free kick off the line.
England 0-1 Italy
Scorers: Insigne 80 (I)
England U21: Butland; Clyne, Dawson, Caulker, Robinson; Henderson, Lowe; Redmond, Shelvey (McEachran 74), Sordell (Chalobah 65); Wickham (Delfouneso 82)
Italy U21: Bardi; Donati, Bianchetti, Caldirola, Biraghi; Florenzi, Marrone (Rossi 87), Verratti, Insigne; Borini (Destro 78), Immobile (Gabbiadini 60)
Ref: Gautier (FRA)