Barry's claim for equaliser may yet go to Defoe

England Under-21 1 Italy Under-21 1
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The Independent Football

At 21 years old Gareth Barry is already well acquainted with the snakes and ladders of footballing fate. Having been hailed as an international prodigy at 19 he found himself in his club's reserve team at 20. Last night was typical of his fluctuating career.

Having been given a first-half chasing by Massimo Maccarone, Italy's 15th-minute goalscorer, it looked as if he had capped an impressive recovery when he scored an equaliser after 59 minutes. But while David Platt's team went onto maintain their unbeaten run under his command Barry found his claim to a first international "goal" being undermined as soon as the final whistle went.

Barry's close-range shot had taken a slight deflection of Jermain Defoe's calf and, like any natural-born goalscorer, Defoe was claiming it.

"It Is my goal," said the West Ham player assertively. The FA will rule today, but are leaning in Defoe's favour.

Not that Platt cares who the goal is credited to. He was simply pleased at the way his team came back against a side that threatened to outclass them early on. Inspired by the impressive Andrea Pirlo they would have sewn the game up in the first period had it not been for Paul Robinson. In the event England bridged the gap in technical ability with enterprise, enthusiasm, and a tactical change or two.

Since England are paired with Italy in the May finals of the European Under-21 Championships this match was more than a run-of-the-mill friendly. That applied especially to the senior players, such as Barry and Alan Smith. They were dreaming of Japan, not Switzerland, for while the watching Sven Goran Eriksson may overlook them when he names the World Cup squad, he has declared any replacements will come from the Under-21s.

Smith worked hard and showed good touches, but while he just kept a lid on his suspect temperament his reckless tackling would have landed him in trouble in a competitive match.

An impressive crowd, lured out on a cold night by the twin local attractions of Smith and fabulous chicken balti pies, saw Italy open the scoring after Marco Marchionni released Maccarone who tucked his shot past Robinson.

At the break Platt brought on Scott Parker to cramp Pirlo's style and asked his players to up the tempo. They followed his instructions to the letter and, after good work from Zat Knight, Barry ­ or was it Defoe? ­ brought them reward.

ENGLAND (4-4-2): Robinson (Leeds); Wright (Liverpool), Knight (Fulham), Barry (Aston Villa), Samuel (Aston Villa); Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Jenas (Newcastle), Prutton (Nottingham Forest), Etherington (Tottenham); Smith (Leeds), Defoe (West Ham). Substitutes used: Pennant (Arsenal) for Wright-Phillips, h-t; Parker (Charlton) for Jenas, h-t; Crouch (Portsmouth) for Etherington, 64; Bywater (West Ham) for Robinson, 80; Gardner (Tottenham) for Knight, 80.

ITALY (4-3-1-2): G Rossi (Venezia); Bonera (Brescia), Ferrari (Parma), Cannavaro (Verona), Bellini (Atalanta); Maresca (Juventus), Brighi (Bologna), Marchionni (Parma); Pirlo (Milan); Maccarone (Empoli), Bonazzoli (Parma). Substitutes used: Iaquinta (Udinese) for Bonazzoli, 50; Donati (Milan) for Maccarone, 62; Pinzi (Udinese) for Brighi, 75; Castellini (Torino) for Maresca, 90.

Referee: A Kelly (Ireland).

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