England’s embarrassing relegation from their Nations League group might just be the least of manager Gareth Southgate’s worries as they once again flouted their status as one of the supposed World Cup favourites.
Here, in the majestic surroundings of Milan’s San Siro stadium, England’s dismal sequence of results was extended by a defeat against a seriously weakened Italy, who will not even be in Qatar when the showpiece gets under way in November.
Southgate now has 90 minutes of action against Germany on Monday before he names his squad, the dynamics of selection altered by the tournament’s unique timing which sees domestic action continue until days before the opening game.
Southgate’s thoughts should be crystallised, names set in stone, only the final tweaks and confirmation remaining before England embark on the mission to improve on their run to the World Cup semi-final in Russia in 2018.
Not a bit of it. Not if this performance is any accurate measure.
If this is how England are going to shape up, they will hardly set off with confidence because this was another mediocre disappointment to add to the mediocre disappointments of those four winless games in June, encapsulated by two losses to Hungary, including the 4-0 defeat at Molineux that saw fans turn on Southgate for the first time.
Southgate suffered more jeers here at the final whistle, although nowhere near the level of Molineux, from England’s fans perched on the highest tier of this historic arena, which is to be knocked down and rebuilt. It is looking a little frayed at the edges but it remains wonderfully atmospheric, especially when largely populated by Italian fans celebrating yet another victory over England.
He accepted the England supporters’ disapproval when he went to acknowledge them after such a performance and loss, but to hear this response to a manager who was afforded national hero status after the defeat by Italy in the Euros final was a measure of how the mood has changed.
For balance, it should be mentioned that Hungary’s superb run continued with a 1-0 win over Germany in Leipzig on Friday. It is not only England who have been made to suffer by the Magyars.
It was 439 days since England lost on penalties to Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley, and the body of evidence is growing that they have gone into reverse since then.