Dominic Solanke’s brace gave England the 2-1 friendly win in Ferrara, as Moise Kean’s header was the only one of the Italy Under-21 team’s many chances to go in.
This was a high-profile friendly at the Stadio Paolo Mazza in Ferrara, the home of Serie A club SPAL, between two of the main contenders for next year’s European Under-21 Championship.
Roma midfielder Nicolò Zaniolo missed a sitter within 60 seconds of kick-off, incredibly firing over from six yards after Rolando Mandragora pulled back from the by-line.
Moments later, Dean Henderson had to make a save from 11 yards on Zaniolo from debutant Gaetano Castrovilli’s assist, while England lost Jake Clarke-Salter to injury.
The Azzurrini were made to pay for those errors, as Ryan Sessegnon put in a wonderful cross from the left for Dominic Solanke’s towering header.
Italy continued to dominate the game, even after falling behind, as Henderson rushed out to smother at the feet of Moise Kean, but Sassuolo full-back Claud Adjapong hobbled off to make way for Bologna’s Arturo Calabresi.
Calabresi had been on the pitch for 15 seconds when stamped on by Solanke for a yellow card, although it could so easily have been a straight red.
Zaniolo stung Henderson’s gloves and the Azzurrini finally got back on level terms with Juventus youngster Kean’s header, climbing to meet Vittorio Parigini’s cross from the right.
In first half stoppages, Emil Audero flew to fingertip an audacious long-range Lewis Cook strike on to the crossbar. Italy copied it at the other end, Henderson flying to palm a Mandragora scorcher out of the far top corner.
England again scored against the run of play with Solanke, who snuck up behind Alessandro Bastoni to turn a cross in from close range relatively undisturbed.
Kean sent Patrick Cutrone through to test Henderson, but the Azzurrini struggled horribly clearing their lines and Sessegnon prodded wide when on the ground.
Substitute Antonino La Gumina should’ve equalised when Kean rolled across the face of goal, but the Empoli striker was just a fraction too late to get the tap-in from six yards.
Audero stuck up one strong hand for a great save on Tammy Abraham’s snapshot, but Henderson somehow denied Cutrone from point-blank range as he went to redirect a Riccardo Orsolini wayward strike.
Italy laid siege to Henderson’s goal in the final minutes, but ultimately this was a tale of one team that took its chances and another that didn’t.
Italy 1-2 England
Solanke 7, 53 (E), Kean 42 (I)
Italy U21: Audero; Adjapong (Calabresi 21), Bastoni (Bonifazi 63), Romagna, Pezzella; Castrovilli (Valzania 63), Mandragora (Verde 90), Zaniolo (Pessina 80); Parigini (La Gumina 63), Cutrone, Kean (Orsolini 80)
England U21: Henderson; Walker-Peters, Tomori, Clarke-Salter (Kelly 4), Dasilva; Cook, Davies (Dowell 69), Foden; Gray (Nelson 63), Solanke (Calvert-Lewin 63), Sessegnon (Abraham 69)
Ref: Romanov (UKR)