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Aug 15, 2012

England tops Italy 2-1

After gorging on an Olympic feast, Jermain Defoe's 80th-minute goal served up another treat for England's sporting public as it secured a 2-1 win over Italy.

In truth, after the Lord Mayor's Show, Boris Johnson would have had difficulty hyping this one up.

But with five debutants, including an excellent performance from second-half substitute John Ruddy, Michael Carrick easing himself back into the international fold and revenge, of sorts, for that Euro 2012 exit, Roy Hodgson's troops can be delighted with their efforts.

Defoe's 20-yard shot was enough to complete a comeback as Phil Jagielka also scored to give England its first win over Italy since 1997.

Fifty-two days since that shattering quarterfinal shootout defeat in Kiev, the atmosphere could not have been more different.

A 30,000-capacity stadium in Switzerland was barely half full for a game few had any appetite.

Yet, with only Ashley Young surviving from the team that started that quarterfinal defeat, so many had a point to prove.

Three would have gone to the Euros but for injury, Carrick made himself unavailable, Tom Cleverley never had a chance to prove his worth and four were in Poland and Ukraine but had only a peripheral role.

Amongst them was Jack Butland.

The Birmingham keeper has had an amazing summer.

League Two with Cheltenham, to third-choice England keeper, Olympics and now this.

Indeed, when Hodgson's squad was announced on Friday, the intention had been to send Butland back to Birmingham on Tuesday so he could feature in their Capital One Cup victory over Barnet.

Joe Hart's back injury changed those plans and after giving it some thought overnight, Hodgson plumped for Butland ahead of Ruddy, his other goalkeeper, who was also hoping to make his first appearance.

At 19 years and 158 days, it meant he became England's youngest keeper, beating the record of Billy Moon, who was 19 and 222 days when he played against Wales at Crewe in February 1888.

Not that Butland would have enjoyed the opening stages of his momentous night as Italy quickly gained the initiative.

Cesare Prandelli had named an equally experimental squad but it was one of his Euro 2012 stalwarts, Daniele De Rossi, who did the damage, rising to meet Alessandro Diamanti's corner and power it in.

Things got better for Butland after that, with the teenager producing a couple of decent saves and commanding his penalty area in a manner that suggested in a few years he will be a genuine challenger for Hart.

Indeed, England improved as a whole, with Carrick and Cleverley starting to get to grips with their roles in a three-man midfield, a new innovation for Hodgson since he succeeded Fabio Capello in May.

Adam Johnson also sparkled, although the equalizer arrived from an unlikely source just before the half hour when Jagielka's diving header found the bottom corner.

It was the Everton defender's first international goal, which skipper Frank Lampard nearly built on when he curled a free-kick inches over.

Although he had happier things to occupy his mind this evening, Sir Alex Ferguson would not have been too impressed to see Davide Astori go straight through the back of Young, which led to a few choice words to the referee from the Manchester United winger.

Butland and Andy Carroll were replaced at the break, which gave Ruddy his chance.

And he could not do much more than get down brilliantly to turn away Mattia Destro's shot on the turn that was heading for the bottom corner.

Antonio Nocerino slid a superb pass through to Federico Peluso, who drove his shot into the side-netting.

Kyle Walker was at fault on both occasions, proving the Tottenham youngster is not quite the finished article even though he was last season's PFA Young Player of the Year.

Gary Cahill has a happy knack of scoring for England and thought he had another when he drove home James Milner's corner, only for the goal to be ruled out for an infringement by Joleon Lescott.

Jake Livermore became England's fourth debutant when he replaced Lampard midway through the second-half, a move which saw Carrick inherit the captaincy, and Ryan Bertrand completed the quintet of rookies.

And, after Ruddy produced another sparkling save to deny Marco Verratti, Defoe's shot exposed some sloppy keeping by Salvatore Sirigu to seal victory to ensure it was a night to remember for them all.

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