Despite the failure to qualify for the World Cup, Sir Alf Ramsey was still in charge for the visit of Italy for this friendly. The writing was on the wall though and another failure saw the final nail, if not hammered into the coffin, at least tapped in to position.
Sir Alf seemed to believe in his players. There were no wholesale changes, despite an obvious need to start planning for the European Championship qualifying campaign. There were just two changes. Peter Osgood made his first appearance for three years, coming in for Martin Chivers and Bobby Moore returning for the “villain” of the Poland game, Norman Hunter. It was Moore’s 90th game as captain a mark which equalled that of Billy Wright. It would be his 108th and last appearance in an England shirt.
Despite the feeling of doom around the international game, this was still a prestige fixture and there were 80000 at Wembley to see it. Italy were in a remarkable run, having not conceded a goal in 9 matches, an international record. Dino Zoff was the goalkeeper and it would take some excellent saves from him to extend that run to an 11th match. The BBC broadcast highlights of the game on Sportsnight with Barry Davies commentating. (This was used as part of ESPN Classic’s “Dead Good Match” series, and that’s the copy used for this recollection).
England totally dominated the match in terms of possession and chances. Tony Currie in particular had a fine game, He responded well to a kick on the shin from a certain Fabio Capello to fire into the side netting, and then forced Zoff into his first fine save, the Juventus keeper at full stretch to push a right footed effort past the post.
The midfield tandem of Currie and Colin Bell were dominating their Italian counterparts, and it was the Manchester City man who had the next effort, firing across the face of goal. Moments later, Currie found himself in a similar position, hitting a similar shot across goal. It remained goalless at half-time, Davies remarking that Ramsey and his England team would: “discuss a familiar problem, how to get the ball in the net.”
The second half followed a similar pattern, England controlling the possession but unable to make a breakthrough. The forward players were making little impact, Osgood and Alan Clarke anonymous. It was left back Emlyn Hughes who came closest to scoring with two scorching efforts in quick succession. The first was a left foot strike on the run from the edge of the box which Zoff turned over at full stretch. From the ensuing corner, the ball again fell to Hughes who this time fizzed a right foot shot just wide of the post.
Italy had barely had an attack in the game, but stole the match in the closing moments. Giorgio Chinaglia burst down the right flank. His cross was low and was spilt by Shilton, straight into the path of Fabio Capello, the future England boss landing a hammer blow on the current one, adjusting quickly to side foot home the winner.
Once again England trudged off the Wembley stage having dominated a game without taking their chances a fact which Davies confirmed in his closing comments: “Scoring in world class football is mighty difficult. England created chances and didn’t take them, the Italians got one, which Shilton presented to them, and scored from it.”