The outcome of the two meetings of these two sides in this competition will probably decide who automatically qualifies for France 1998 and who tries for a place in the World Cup Finals through the play-offs, therefore full points from this match would help the cause of finishing first in Group 2 and thus avoid extra games.
Seaman and Adams (ankle problem) were missing from the England line-up, Walker taking Seaman's place in nets. England began the match making good runs via Le Tissier (only 3rd senior start) and McManaman and on the whole they seemed to be playing quite well. Unfortunately a shadow was cast over these efforts courtesy of Chelsea star Zola.
On the counter attack, after Le Tissier had squandered a chance for England after a good cross by Pearce, Costacurta sent the ball 40 yards along the right to Zola, who after shaking off Pearce and Campbell placed the ball inside the near post. The Italians were rejoicing a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute of play, and for much of the game to follow seemed to suffocate England's strikers. Cannavaro and Ferrara giving no edge to Shearer and Le Tissier.
England prevented Italy making the score 2-0 in the 25th minute. Zola stepped up to meet a clearance by Le Saux but to the relief of all Englishmen, Walker was able to stop the shot going in.
The Italians had stamped their authority on the game but with five minutes of the first half remaining, Beckham tried to get England back on level terms with a free-kick. The youngster curled the ball around the Italian wall but a good save by Perruzzi meant that the score remained the same.
Twenty minutes into the second half Les Ferdinand came on for Le Tissier to complete the Newcastle striker partnership. Le Tissier had gone frustratingly close to scoring earlier in the game after Perruzi had left his goal open, but his header went wide. Now with fresh legs on the pitch the home side showed promise to score with an increasing number of attacks. Le Saux's attempt went marginally wide and later he had another chance with a free-kick. Perruzi gave away a corner from this attempt but unfortunately for England, Pearce's
free-kick following the corner was cleared by the Italian 'keeper. After good pressure by England before the full time whistle, the final score was settled by Zola's strike. This was the first time that England had been beaten in the World Cup at Wembley.
Hoddle's reaction to the defeat: "I said before the game that the qualification from this group will not be settled until much later on. There's a lot of football to be played yet with both of us still having to go to Poland. We are not out of the World Cup and we have to remain optimistic. It's how we respond off the back of this defeat that will count."
Meanwhile the new Italian coach, Maldini, was obviously happy with the result: "We are delighted with the three points and the slight difference that it has made to the goal difference, but at the moment we are just savouring the fact that we have won a World Cup match on a pitch where it's not traditional for visiting teams to win."
Walker, G Neville, Pearce, Ince, Campbell, Le Saux, Beckham, Batty (Wright 89 mins), Shearer, Le Tissier (L Ferdinand 61 mins), McManaman (Merson 77 mins).
Subs Not Used: Southgate, James, Lee, Redknapp.
Perruzi, Ferrara, Maldini, Baggio, Cannavaro, Costacurta, Di Livio, Di Matteo, Casiraghi (Ravanelli 77 mins), Albertini, Zola (Fuser 90 mins).
Subs Not Used: Toldo, Nesta, Benarrivo, Del Piero, Chiesa.
Italy Scorer: Zola 18 min
Referee: Sandor Puhl (Hungary)