The first round of fixtures in the European Championships saw Italy go top of Group A after a narrow win over the Young Lions, while hosts Israel conceded late in the earlier tie
Host nation Israel got their first European Under-21 Championship in six years underway in the afternoon against Norway at a sold-out stadium in Netanya.
Guy Lozen's side started slowly but went ahead courtesy of a precise penalty from Nir Biton in the 19th minute after Omar Elabdellaoui's clumsy challenge inside the area gave the referee little choice but to hand Israel a penalty.
Norway quickly equalised through Marcus Pedersen, though, but were then reduced to 10 men just before the break as Vegar Hedenstad was dismissed for a late challenge on Mohammed Kalibat.
Israel took advantage to reclaim the lead when Alon Turgeman smashed home, but a wonderful strike deep into stoppage time from Harmeet Singh stunned the partisan crowd and stole two points out of the host's grasp.
England Under-21s 0-1 Italy Under-21s
England got their campaign off to the worst possible start against a talented Italian side in Tel Aviv.
The Azzurrini dominated the first half and had a couple of chances through Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile before referee Antony Gautier denied Devis Mangia's side what looked like a certain penalty after Jack Robinson clumsily brought down Alessandro Florenzi inside the area.
Nathan Redmond, a late replacement in the squad for Andros Townsend, was England's best performer in a generally poor first half from their perspective.
Stuart Pearce's men twice thought they had the lead in the second half, though, only to see both efforts disallowed. First Connor Wickham was flagged offside after a delicate chip over Francesco Bardi. Moments later Craig Dawson's header from a corner was chalked off for an infringement during the set-piece.
But it was Italy who took home all three points, and deservedly too, as Insigne curled a wonderfully struck free kick past Jack Butland and into the top corner from just outside the box.
England Under-21s manager Stuart Pearce was not at all pleased with his side's performance in their opening fixture of the tournament and slammed his players' efforts after the game.
"We were awful today, we've got to get better than that, the players know that, I don't have to tell them that, they look at me and know exactly in their mind," he told Sky Sports.
"They don't kid themselves these chaps. We give it to them blatantly when they've done well and obviously when we haven't done well we look at it and we learn the lessons by it. The main thing in tournament football is getting out the group. We've got two games to come and we have to win both of them."