It was billed as England’s shot at revenge after their agonizing penalty shoot-out loss to Italy in last summer’s Euro 2020 final, but ended with boss Gareth Southgate scratching Molineux’s head after the Three Lions went out for a third straight game had not scored a goal in the open game.
Harry Kane’s late penalty in the 1-1 draw with Germany is the only time England have scored this Nations League season and the captain was given a breather during a grueling end-of-season schedule.
Tammy Abraham instead had a chance to establish himself as the man to take on some of the scoring burden, but although England controlled the game for the most part, they rarely opened a well-rehearsed Italian defence.
And since the game was held behind closed doors, apart from a few thousand schoolchildren who were allowed to attend, it was a muted occasion.
“Controlling games doesn’t guarantee goals and if you don’t score you end up being open to criticism, I’m sure we will be,” said Southgate.
“We are disappointed that we didn’t win the game. We had two or three very good chances that we have to take advantage of.
“You don’t get many chances against the top teams, that’s the way it is. We would have liked to have created more given the possession.”
The message from the England players was that they weren’t overly concerned about this current losing streak and had Mason Mount kept his efforts under the bar rather than scoring, or Raheem Sterling converted from close range in the second half, that would have been Topic has not been dominated overtime.
“We haven’t scored enough goals in the last couple of games but we got through to the World Cup semi-finals that way and are just a penalty shoot-out away from winning a Euro in our home country,” defender Harry Maguire told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Let football do the talking – everyone is behind us for the World Cup and we keep pushing, we’re doing our best to improve.”
Mount added: “It’s frustrating, we want to win, create chances and score goals. I probably should have used my chances better, we had a few other chances and we have to look at that. We’re keeping a clean sheet.” So that’s a positive thing, but we have to work on it.
“Sometimes you go through little phases where it’s difficult. We have to keep working hard in training, see where we can improve. We have the players for it, the talent and the quality, just work on it.”
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Is England too dependent on Kane?
The simple answer seems to be yes – Kane has scored an impressive 50 goals for his country while the rest of this current squad have 49 combined.
“The concern is if for some reason you don’t have him,” Southgate added of the Tottenham striker, who replaced Abraham with 25 minutes remaining and swept away a difficult chance with his lone shot on target.
“Our captain’s goal record is phenomenal. We have to start spreading that burden. There are players who score regularly for their club and need to translate that to international football. We just have to keep working to put them in the right areas bring.”
Roma striker Abraham scored 27 goals in all competitions as Jose Mourinho’s side won the Europa Conference League and appears to be in the pecking order above Ollie Watkins, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Callum Wilson to be Kane’s backup.
But Abraham will be disappointed he failed to convert his one real chance in the opening minutes at Wolverhampton.
“There’s such a huge chasm between Kane and everyone else,” former England defender Graeme Le Saux said on Channel 4. “In the season Tammy has had, he put himself in that position but it’s about addressing himself adapt to international football.
“All in all, Tammy put on a decent game. Has had very limited service though and he will request that ball sooner.”
Should Three Lions be worried?
Former England defender Matthew Upson said they need to rediscover their goalscoring abilities if they are to succeed at the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
“I think a lot of that is mentality — it’s a mindset and an approach,” he said on 5 Live. “When you look at some of the missed chances tonight it’s often about playing more aggressively and decisively – Raheem Sterling’s miss is a classic.
“It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be elaborate – although that’s all nice and part of the game – but you want to see that advantage and I just don’t see it right now. That ruthless edge that will win games and win tournaments and score goals. It’s just not there.”
However, from an Italian perspective, England remain one of the teams heading into the World Cup.
“They are one of the best teams in Europe at the moment,” said coach Roberto Mancini. “They have a lot of very good players. Maybe they’ll try some other things before the World Cup. You’re one of the contenders to win the World Cup in Qatar.”
But Azzurri legend Alessandro del Piero, speaking on Channel 4, believes England need to be ‘riskier’ ahead of the tournament.
“They were good in terms of possession, it’s the finishing touch that decides if you’re a winning team,” he said. “If you have this chance, you have to score.”