Jermain Defoe dedicated his eye-catching winner against Italy to the memory of his cousin Hannah, who was killed in an accident last month while on holiday on the Caribbean island of St Lucia.

The Tottenham Hotspur striker curled his 16th international goal, and a first since a hat-trick against Bulgaria in September 2010, beyond Salvatore Sirigu with 11 minutes remaining to secure England's first victory over the Azzurri in 15 years. "That goal was for my cousin," he said. "It would have been her 21st birthday today. It's one of the best goals I have ever scored for England."

Roy Hodgson described the winner as "spectacular" after this victory left him unbeaten in seven matches in charge, albeit having been eliminated by these opponents at Euro 2012 on penalties.

The England manager left the Stade de Suisse encouraged by individual displays throughout an experimental side. His senior players were impressive and five youngsters on their debuts – Jack Butland, who became England's youngest ever goalkeeper, John Ruddy, who replaced him at half-time, Ryan Bertrand, Tom Cleverley and Jake Livermore – suggested some level of depth to his options.

"I'm pleased and it's nice to know we have a deeper squad of players than that we took to the Euros," said Hodgson, who saw the Italians hand out eight new caps.

"Everyone did well and it was nice to see the likes of Cleverley, Butland and young Ryan Bertrand bringing the form and enthusiasm they showed with Team GB to our play. It was good for the youngsters to have the likes of Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick around them displaying such composure on the ball.

"That pair were outstanding. You don't become a really good player overnight. You have to play an awful lot of football, a lot of matches, at the highest level. They've done that internationally and for two very important club sides in Chelsea and Manchester United. We kept the ball better [than in the summer tournament] and I was pleased with that.

"It is not about systems, it is about players and the three in midfield passed very well, our wide men worked very hard and everyone played their part. People will mention the contributions of Carrick and Lampard but there's Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard to come back in, so we have more than enough players to play that way.

"We blooded some new players, some fresh talent, and they answered the challenge in the best possible way with a great victory."

Attention will now turn to securing involvement in next month's World Cup qualifying ties against Moldova and Ukraine, with those handed an opportunity here pepped by the experience.

"It was a proud moment, a big occasion in any footballer's life," said Cleverley. "I managed to get on the ball at times, even if they made it hard for me – there were some hard tackles out there, and Daniele de Rossi is a very good player – but hopefully I have impressed the manager and can be called up again. I thought we controlled the game for large spells."