It was going to take something really rather special to rescue an England friendly played in front of a half-empty stadium against a backdrop of scarcely concealed indifference, and against all the odds, with 11 minutes remaining, Jermain Defoe scored a winning goal that would have sent a jolt through any match.
With virtually all their senior players missing and five debuts handed out last night, it should be said that this was a game heading nowhere. The most upbeat assessment would have been that at least Michael Carrick had played his way back into international contention.
That was until Defoe, a second-half substitute, picked the ball up from James Milner's well-judged through ball, doubled back against Ignazio Abate and smacked a shot from the corner of the area past the Italy goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.
It was a beautiful goal that gave meaning to a meaningless night.
There were debuts for Jack Butlland, who at 19 became England's youngest goalkeeper, Tom Cleverley, John Ruddy, Jake Livermore and Ryan Bertrand. Butland and Cleverley certainly looked like they will have a future at senior international level. There was even a sparkling substitute's cameo from Mr Steady, Milner, who unexpectedly changed the mood of the team.
Of course, this was nothing like the same Italy team that reached the final of Euro 2012, and Carrick did not have to measure himself against that old midfield assassin Andrea Pirlo. England's old problems of failing to move the ball around quickly enough and lack of width were evident once again. None of this is going to be solved over one night.
But this is the first defeat of Italy in 15 years and the England manager, Roy Hodgson, can at least say that he is unbeaten in normal time over the course of all seven games that he has been in charge. It could have been so much worse, given the restrictions placed upon him.
Italy had taken the lead on 15 minutes when their captain Daniele De Rossi was allowed to head home a corner. England scored an equaliser in similar fashion, Phil Jagielka stooping low to head in Frank Lampard's corner on 27 minutes. But it was in the 79th minute that Milner took the ball upfield, having won a tackle in his own half, shortly after England had got the ball off their own line. And Defoe did the rest.