England undone in Euro opener
A Lorenzo Insigne free-kick earns Italy victory over England's Under-21s in Tel Aviv
England’s European Championship challenge began with defeat as a late Italian free-kick edged a tight affair in Tel Aviv.
Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne’s strike was also enough to end the Young Lions' nine-game winning streak and take the Azzurrini top of the group after matchday one.
Insigne was clearly the difference throughout the contest, his non-stop movement and running keeping the England rear-guard busy. So it was no real surprise when he got on the 79th-minute free-kick and curled it past Jack Butland.
A day earlier, Pearce had suggested Italy would be group favourites, and he may be proved right, but England must now bounce back quickly with Norway coming up next on Saturday.
On the plus side, there was a debut for Birmingham City winger Nathan Redmond, whose call-up came after Andros Townsend pulled out of the squad. And he looked very lively from the start, playing out wide in Pearce’s three-pronged attack.
Redmond was England’s key instigator in offense, but they just didn’t have enough on the night, despite seeing two goals disallowed just after half-time.
Pearce will also have Tom Ince and Danny Rose available for selection after they sat the game out through suspension, while he’ll hope Wilf Zaha and Henri Lansbury both recover from injuries.
From the early stages of this one, Italy were seeing more of the ball in advanced positions as Ciro Immobile and Insigne both had attempts from the edge of the area, but both were off target.
England did have a couple of sights on goal when Jonjo Shelvey tried one from the halfway line as Italian 'keeper Francesco Bardi was off his line, but that went wide. Then Connor Wickham directed a cross from the right towards goal from six yards out, but Bardi was more than equal to it.
There was almost a calamitous mistake at the back for England, though, when Nathaniel Clyne headed a long ball back towards Butland. However, the 'keeper had come out a long way and the ball carried beyond him. Thankfully Clyne cleared.
England were looking a little nervy when the Azzurrini attacked, and on two occasions it took a last ditch block from Craig Dawson to deny them a chance.
After a neat one-two with Immobile on the edge of the box, Insigne found himself in behind the England defence and bearing down on Butland. The Stoke City stopper was out well to shut down the space, and though the crafty forward got to the ball first, his clipped shot landed on the roof of the net.
Jason Lowe came close to finding the net for England as the half-hour approached. A great ball out to the left from Shelvey found Marvin Sordell before he played into the unmarked Blackburn Rovers midfielder.
Lowe steadied himself and drove along the ground towards goal, but the ball fizzed narrowly wide.
Redmond was England brightest spark, though, and created himself a chance moments later when he jinked his way past two Italian defenders and made space for a shot from 25 yards. Unfortunately, though, it was never going to trouble Bardi.
Pearce would have been breathing a sigh of relief when Jack Robinson appeared to bring Alessandro Florenzi down inside the England area but the referee waved away the appeals.
It was England’s turn to be left feeling hard done by early in the second half. Connor Wickham and Dawson both had the ball in the net.
While the first was offside, all inside the Bloomfield Stadium were confused at Dawson’s header being ruled out. Even the stadium announcer thought it was 1-0 to Pearce’s men, but the referee saw a foul inside the six yard box.
While Pearce’s men were brighter, Italy still looked dangerous when in possession and Fabio Borini almost made the most of two England errors.
After Robinson lost possession on the left, a ball towards the far post was met by the Liverpool man, but his header was saved well by Butland.
His good work was almost undone seconds later, though, when trying to clear upfield. Borini closed down well and latched onto the ball in space, carry goalwards, unmarked. But he couldn’t find the target, shooting early, but screwing wide.
Then with 12 minutes left, the moment that broke the deadlock arrived and won the game for Italy.
A dangerous pass down Italy’s left reached substitute Manolo Gabbiadini and he turned superbly inside, beating Clyne. The Southampton defender pulled down the Italian, and from the resulting free-kick, right on the edge of the area, Insigne curled over the wall and inside Butland’s post.
Redmond tried to conjure up something right at the end, firing over from one shot and feeding a well-placed Josh McEachran, but nothing came of either.
So England’s impressive run of victories, with no goals conceded, comes to an end after 18 months. They have a chance to start another one on Saturday.
1 Jack Butland, 2 Nathaniel Clyne, 4 Steven Caulker, 6 Craig Dawson, 9 Jack Robinson, 8 Jordan Henderson, 10 Jason Lowe, 18 Jonjo Shelvey (14 Josh McEachran, 75) , 19 Nathan Redmond, 21 Marvin Sordell (12 Nathaniel Chalobah, 65), 22 Connor Wickham (20 Nathan Delfouneso, 82)
Substitutes not used 13 Jason Steele, 23 Declan Rudd, 3 Adam Smith, 5 Andre Wisdom, 7 Tom Lees, 15 Wilfried Zaha, 17 Henri Lansbury
Coach Stuart Pearce
Bookings Jason Lowe, 66; Nathaniel Clyne 78
1 Francesco Bardi, 2 Giulio Donati, 3 Cristiano Biraghi, 4 Marco Verratti, 6 Luca Caldirola (c), 7 Alessandro Florenzi, 8 Luca Marrone, 9 Ciro Immobile (11 Manolo Gabbiadini, 60), 10 Lorenzo Insigne, 13 Matteo Bianchetti, 20 Fabio Borini (14 Mattia Destro, 78)
Substitutes not used 12 Simone Colombi, 22 Nicola Leali, 5 Marco Capuano, 15 Nicola Sansone, 16 Andrea Bertolacci, 17 Alberto Paloschi, 18 Riccardo Saponara, 19 Vasco Regini, 21 Fausto Rossi, 23 Marco Crimi
Coach Devis Mangia
Goals Lorenzo Insigne, 79
Bookings Lorenzo Insigne, 90; Matteo Bianchetti, 88
Referee Antony Gautier