The Three Lions are through to the final of the International Challenge Trophy after a 2-2 draw with Italy.
International Challenge Trophy
Stadio Santa Columba, Benevento
Wednesday 12 November 2008
England C reached the Final of the International Challenge Trophy following a hard earned 2-2 draw against a talented Italian side at the Stadio Santa Columba in Benevento on Wednesday afternoon.
Paul Fairclough’s side, the current holders of the trophy, went into their final Group A encounter knowing that a draw would be sufficient for them to reach next year’s final against Belgium.
In naming the side, Fairclough handed debuts to Carl Tremarco (Wrexham), Exodus Geohaghon (Kettering Town), Josh Simpson (Histon) and Jon-Paul Pitman (Crawley Town).
The game kicked off on a beautiful warm afternoon and after a tentative opening it was the home side that created the first opening when Agostinone fired in a fierce shot from 25 yards which was well held by Adam Bartlett.
The home side continued to press knowing that a win would see them reach the final and on 16 minutes, Lambrughi burst into the box from the right and pulled the ball back across the face of the goal only for Danny Gleeson to force the ball out for a corner.
Bartlett came to England’s rescue again after 20 minutes when he saved well following a neat interchange between Lambrughi and Petrilli.
The Italians continued to dominate the game with the impressive Olivieri causing problems for the English defence who were holding firm under pressure but it was against the run of play that England almost snatched the lead on 32 minutes when Mitchell Cole fired in a tremendous shot from 25 yards which took a slight deflection and cannoned back off the post with Prisco in the home goal well beaten.
The home side’s dominance finally paid off when they took the lead on 36 minutes following a slip by Jonathan D’Laryea who, after bringing the ball out of defence and was dispossessed by Ciasca who rolled the ball into Dionisi who fired past Bartlett.
England knew that they needed to up their game in the second half if they were to get the all important equaliser and they certainly tore into the home side from the re-start with Cole and James Constable combining well after 48 minutes before sending Pitman clear.
The Crawley wide man burst between two blue shirted defenders only to be brought down on the edge of the penalty area. From the resultant free-kick, Russell Penn curled his free kick around the wall only for Prisco to palm the ball away for a corner.
It was Histon’s Josh Simpson who fired home the equaliser after 58 minutes, following pressure by both Smith and Geohaghon on the Italian defenders. The ball broke for Simpson to fire home, much to the delight of his team-mates and the small but noisy band of England supporters. The goal, although a scrappy affair, was just reward for a promising start to the second half.
The visitors were now on top and had the ball in the net again after 65 minutes, following a neat passing movement between Cole, Simpson and Constable. The latter fired home only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.
However, England’s good second half performance was in ruins after 71 minutes when a terrible mix-up between Bartlett and Cole presented Statella with an opportunity to score which he did not waste to put the home side 2-1 up and with one foot in the final.
The visitors again knew that they had to maintain their early pressure and almost immediately from the re-start they nearly equalised with Shaun Harrad, an earlier replacement for Pitman, glancing a header onto the bar.
With the clock ticking down, England continued to press and scored their crucial second goal after 82 minutes. It stemmed from a huge throw from Geohaghon and when the Italians failed to clear, Smith flicked on at the near post and Constable headed home a deserved equaliser.
The Italians threw everyone forward in a last desperate effort to win the match but in doing so were vulnerable to the counter attack and in the final minute Cole sprinted forward from midway inside the England half and only a last gasp stop by Prisco prevented an England winner.
The drama continued, with Bartlett twice saving from Dionisi as the game entered stoppage time and then in the third minute of stoppage time the Italians thought that they had scored the winner with Olivieri firing home from 10 yards, only for an assistant referee’s flag to rule his effort out for offside.
The final whistle was greeted with great delight by players, staff and supporters alike. The road to the final which began 12 months ago to the day on a freezing night in Helsinki, culminated on a warm afternoon in southern Italy. The side now go forward to meet Belgium in the final on a date and venue to be agreed.
England: Bartlett (Kidderminster Harriers), Gleeson (Cambridge United), Tremarco (Wrexham) (Jake Wright (Tamworth), 73), Smith (Ebbsfleet United), Simpson (Histon), Geohaghon (Kettering Town), Penn (Kidderminster Harriers) (Anton Robinson (Weymouth) 73), D’Laryea (Mansfield Town) (Michael Bostwick (Stevenage Borough), 56), Constable (Oxford United), Cole (Stevenage Borough) Pitman (Crawley Town) (Shaun Harrad (Burton Albion), 56)
Subs not used: Cronin (Ebbsfleet United), Robinson (Weymouth).