England midfielder Declan Rice claimed England “controlled” their UEFA Nations League game against Italy – but Joe Cole laid into Gareth Southgate’s side following their defeat in Milan.
Giacomo Raspadori scored the only goal of the game at the San Siro, with England drawing yet another blank. England have failed to win any of their five games, with their only goal coming from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw with Germany in June.
With two months to go until the World Cup, concerns about the Euro 2020 finalists’ hopes in Qatar have been growing. However, despite criticism from former England star Cole, Rice defended the performance against the Azzurri.
“It is obviously disappointing,” Rice said of the relegation, “Every tournament we go in we set out to win the group and win every game. In the Nations League we have slipped below our standards but I didn’t think it was all bad tonight.
“One chance and one goal for them, I thought we controlled the game, passed the ball around well and got into some good areas, we just lacked that cutting edge in the end. It is coming though, and it was a lot better performance than in the summer.”
England’s four summer games had brought two draws and two defeats, with a 4-0 home loss against Hungary a particular lowlight. However, despite Rice’s comments, Cole didn’t see too much improvement.
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“It was disappointing, it was the manner in the way we started the game,” former Chelsea and West Ham man Cole said. “The Italians were on it, there was an overload and there was numbers in the middle and we were not getting close to them, but I felt as though the same problems that surface with England, we have to be braver.
“These lads have got the ability, we see it week in, week out that they are quality players,” he continued. “They need to puff their chests out, put their shoulders back and drive into those difficult positions and play through the lines. Jude Bellingham, a 19-year-old, was our best player tonight and that says a lot about when you look at quality that we have in this side.”
Despite their relegation, England still have one more game to play before the World Cup. They will face Germany at Wembley on Monday, with Hansi Flick’s team coming off a defeat at home to Hungary.
England have not scored a competitive goal from open play since November, when they recorded a 10-0 win against San Marino. Indeed, they have only scored six times in their seven matches in 2022, and just once in their last five games.
Their World Cup campaign kicks off in just two month’s time, with their first group stage game coming against Iran. Further matches against the United States and Wales will follow, and Southgate’s team will need to solve their goal problem before then.
“It’s difficult to be too critical of the performance,” the manager said. “I personally thought the performance was a step in the direction but I completely understand that because of the result, that won’t be the reaction externally.
“The reaction will be guided by the result but we won’t far off with the performance tonight. I have to keep the players on track and not being distracted.”