Teenage goalkeeper Jack Butland made his first appearance for England as Roy Hodgson hailed his side's performance in their warm-up match before the start of World Cup qualifying next month.
International friendly: Italy 1 England 2
Team GB's teenage goalkeeper Jack Butland started the match for England, but suffered a blow early on when Italian stalwart Daniele De Rossi headed home an Alessandro Diamanti corner to give Italy the lead after just 14 minutes.
Things got better for Butland after that, with the teenager producing a couple of decent saves and commanding his penalty area in a manner that suggested in a few years he will be a genuine challenger for Hart.
Indeed, England improved as a whole, with Carrick and Cleverley starting to get to grips with their roles in a three-man midfield, a new innovation for Hodgson since he succeeded Fabio Capello in May.
Adam Johnson also sparkled, although the equaliser arrived from an unlikely source just before the half-hour when Jagielka's diving header found the bottom corner.
It was the Everton man's first international goal, which skipper Frank Lampard nearly built on when he curled a free kick inches over.
Butland was replaced by John Ruddy at the interval, and he could not do much more than get down brilliantly to turn away Mattia Destro's shot on the turn that was heading for the bottom corner.
Antonio Nocerino slid a superb pass through to Federico Peluso, who drove his shot into the side-netting.
Gary Cahill has a happy knack of scoring for England and thought he had another when he drove home James Milner's corner, only for the goal to be ruled out for an infringement by Joleon Lescott.
Ruddy produced another sparkling save to deny Marco Verratti, before Defoe struck on the counter, picking up a through ball from James Milner and smashing his shot home with just 11 minutes to go.
"That goal was for my cousin who died in St Lucia," Defoe said after the match. "It would have been her birthday today."
Despite the supposed friendly nature of the match, and the half-full stadium, Roy Hodgson said he felt the game had proved a worthwhile exercise ahead of next month's World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine.
"I'm pleased," he said.
"It was the type of game I sort of expected; two teams with a lot of changes looking to make a big impression ahead of the qualification campaign.
"I am happy with the way we responded to that challenge and the performance we gave.
"It's the qualifiers that really count, but it's nice to know we have a deeper squad of players than that we took to the Euros."
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli also branded the contest a success, despite the result, highlighting the performance of striker Mattia Destro in particular as a reason for optimism.
"We have seen some young players who can be the future of the national team," said Prandelli.
"Mattia Destro showed he can play in the national team now."