England ready for big test against 'revitalised' Italy in Euro 2024 qualifier

Three Lions manager Southgate takes on Spalletti's Azzurri at Wembley on Tuesday

England captain Harry Kane battles for possession with Rafael Toloi of Italy during the Euro 2024 qualifier at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on March 23, 2023. Getty
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England return to Euro 2024 qualifying action on Tuesday when they take on reigning champions Italy at a sold-out Wembley Stadium.

Manager Gareth Southgate named a much-changed line-up for Friday's home friendly against Australia with the only goal of the game coming just before the hour mark courtesy of Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins.

Next up will be the Group C match against Italy with the Three Lions sitting top of the table having won four and drawn one of their games so far. The Azzurri are third, six points behind.

It will be the fourth time the teams have clashed since Italy won the Euro 2020 final after beating Southgate's side on penalties.

But this will be the first reunion under the famous Wembley arch with their previous meetings coming in Wolverhampton, Milan and then Naples.

It has been turbulent period for the Italians who failed to reach last year's World Cup finals in Qatar then saw manager Roberto Mancini quit to take over the Saudi Arabia national team.

Luciano Spalletti – who guided Napoli to their first Serie A title in more than 30 years last season – is now the coach of a new-look team that host Malta on Saturday evening before heading over to London.

Last time out, England ran out 2-1 winners against Mancini's side at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona when Harry Kane scored a penalty just before half-time that saw him overtake Wayne Rooney to become England's all-time leading scorer on 54 goals.

But Southgate believes the Italians are an improved outfit under Spalletti as England look to seal qualification for next year's finals in Germany.

“Italy look revitalised under Spalletti,” Southgate said. “They were excellent against Ukraine last month. They're a top-10 nation.

“We've talked about these top-10 games and the importance of them, the challenge of them.

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“We have the chance to qualify for the European Championships with two games to spare.

“But also it's a great test of where we are as a team and, yeah, it's a challenge we're really looking forward to.”

It will be a more familiar England line-up on Tuesday after Southgate made 10 changes from the team that won convincingly in Scotland last month against the Socceroos.

“It was great that they got the win. It was important to keep winning because if we if we lose the game or you give a goal away at the end then you leave here on a bit of a low. It sets the game up now with Italy.

“In the end, it's very hard to prepare the squad when they know ultimately this week really is about the Italy game and it's impossible to dress that up any other way.

“But for the players that played, for some of them their Wembley debut, for some of them their England debut. Massively important nights for them.”

Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah made his England debut as a second-half substitute against Australia, while versatile Chelsea defender Levi Colwill made his bow from the start.

“Important first steps for them,” Southgate said of the debutants, while match-winner Watkins' movement and positioning was praised after scoring on his first England appearance since March 2022.

Lewis Dunk's development continues to impress, with the Brighton defender winning his third cap in central defence alongside Fikayo Tomori, who was replaced by John Stones in the 62nd minute as he continues his recovery from a hip issue.

“Thirty minutes for John Stones was very important for us, to get him on to the pitch,” Southgate said of the Manchester City defender, who made his first Premier League appearance last weekend.

“We're managing that recovery carefully, we're combining really well with his club on all of that.

“But he's a world-class player, and it was great to get him up and running.”

Updated: October 14, 2023, 2:32 PM