It was billed as England’s shot at revenge after last summer’s agonising defeat on penalties to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, but ended with boss Gareth Southgate leaving Molineux scratching his head after the Three Lions failed to score from open play for the third successive game.
Harry Kane’s late penalty in the 1-1 draw against Germany is the only time England have found the net in this Nations League campaign and the captain was handed a breather for this one during what is a gruelling end-of-season schedule.
Tammy Abraham was instead given a chance to establish himself as the man to take on some of the goalscoring burden but, despite England controlling the game for large parts, they rarely opened up a well-drilled Italian defence.
And with the game played behind closed doors, bar a few thousand schoolchildren allowed to attend, it was a muted occasion.
“Controlling games doesn’t guarantee goals and if you don’t score you end up open to criticism, as I am sure we will be,” said Southgate.
“We’re disappointed not to win the game. We had two or three very good chances that we have to take.
“You don’t get loads of chances against the top-level teams, that’s how it is. We’d like to have created more given the amount of possession we had.”
The message from the England players was that they are not too worried about this current barren spell, and had Mason Mount kept his effort below the bar instead of striking it, or Raheem Sterling converted from close range in the second half, the topic would not have dominated the post-match fallout.
“The last few games we haven’t scored enough goals but we got to a World Cup semi-final playing this way and we were a penalty shootout away from winning a Euros in our home country,” defender Harry Maguire told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Let the football do the talking – everyone get behind us for the World Cup and keep pushing us, we’re doing our best to improve.”
Mount added: “It is frustrating, we want to win, create chances and score goals. I probably should have done better with my chances, we had a few other chances and it is something we have to look at. We are keeping clean sheets so it is something that is a positive but we have to work at it.
“Sometimes you go through little periods where it is difficult. We have to keep working hard in training, look where we can improve. We have the players to to do that, the talent and quality, just work at it.”
Are England too reliant on Kane?
The simple answer would appear to be yes – Kane has scored an impressive 50 goals for his country while the rest of this current squad have 49 between them.
“The concern is if you don’t have him for whatever reason,” added Southgate about the Tottenham striker, who replaced Abraham with 25 minutes to go and blasted a difficult chance over with his one effort on goal.
“Our captain’s goalscoring record is phenomenal. We have to start sharing that load. There are players who are scoring regularly with their club and have to transfer that to international football. We just have to keep working on getting them into those right areas.”
Roma forward Abraham scored 27 goals in all competitions as Jose Mourinho’s side won the Europa Conference League and appears to be above the likes of Ollie Watkins, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Callum Wilson in the pecking order to be Kane’s back-up.
But Abraham will be disappointed he was unable to finish his one real opportunity in the opening minutes in Wolverhampton.
“There is such big gap between Kane and anyone else,” said former England defender Graeme Le Saux on Channel 4. “The season Tammy has had, he has put himself in this position, but it is about adapting to international football.
“All in all, Tammy has had a decent game. Has had very limited service though and he will be calling for that ball in earlier.”
Should Three Lions be worried?
Former England defender Matthew Upson said they must rediscover their goalscoring touch if they are to be successful at the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
“I think a lot of it is mentality – it’s a way of thinking and an approach,” he said on 5 Live. “If you look at some of the chances missed tonight it is often about being more aggressive and more decisive when you play – the Raheem Sterling miss is a classic one.
“It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be elaborate – although all of that is nice and part of the game – but you want to see that edge, and I just don’t see it at the moment. That ruthless edge that is going to go and win games and win tournaments and score goals. It’s just not there.”
The view from the Italian camp, however, is that England remain one of the teams to be heading into the World Cup.
“They are one of the best teams in Europe at this moment,” said boss Roberto Mancini. “They have many very good players. They are maybe trying some different things before the World Cup. They are one of the candidates to win the World Cup in Qatar.”
But Azzurri legend Alessandro del Piero, speaking on Channel 4, believes England must be more “risky” come the tournament.
“In terms of possession they were good, it is the final touch that determines whether you are a winning team,” he said. “When you have that chance you have to score.”