England, Harry Kane convincing in Italy win
Ten-man England survived a second-half comeback in their opener of Euro 2024 qualifying to beat Italy 2-1 on Thursday in Naples, Italy.
It was England’s first-ever competitive win against Italy on Italian soil — their first including friendlies since 1961 — through a first-half goal from Declan Rice, followed by Harry Kane, whose 44th-minute penalty saw him become England’s all-time top scorer with 54 goals.
Rice fired England into the lead after 13 minutes when turning home the rebound after Kane’s shot from Bukayo Saka‘s corner was partially blocked. England were much the better side in the first half and deserved to extend their lead when Giovanni Di Lorenzo was adjudged to have handled in the box, a decision Serbian referee Srdjan Jovanovic awarded on VAR review, allowing Kane to set the new England scoring record.
Italy rallied in the second half when Mateo Retegui marked his debut by coolly slotting home Lorenzo Pellegrini‘s 56th-minute pass.
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– Read on ESPN+: The lessons from Napoli’s success
As the home side pushed England back, Luke Shaw was sent off after picking up two yellow cards in quick succession, the first for timewasting and the second following a late tackle on Retegui, but England held together to see through the match.
The match marked Italy’s first Euro qualifier defeat in 41 games dating back to September 2006.
1. England carve out another slice of history
England’s journey under manager Gareth Southgate has featured several landmarks representing tangible historic progress: a first penalty shoot-out win at a World Cup in 2018, a first-ever European Championship final at Euro 2020 and a sixth tournament knockout win in Qatar, which equalled the number achieved in the previous 48 years.
A Euro qualifier win does not occupy the same status in this pantheon of achievements, but England had not beaten Italy away since 1961. Italy were also unbeaten in home qualifiers since September 1999 (against Denmark).
One of the few remaining questions England have to answer for under Southgate is their inconsistent record against the very best sides. Victory here is a reference point Southgate can use to help grow England’s belief even more, and in the short-term it will enable them to take early control of Group C in Euro qualifiers.
A home win against Ukraine on Sunday would complete the perfect way to respond to December’s World Cup exit to France, similar to the resounding 4-0 win in Hungary secured after losing the Euro 2020 final. This was also Southgate’s 50th win as England manager, from 82 games — a number only surpassed by Walter Winterbottom (78) and Sir Alf Ramsey (69).
2. Poetic justice for Harry Kane
Nothing will completely take away the pain of missing a penalty in England’s World Cup quarterfinal defeat top France three months ago. But there was some sort of poetic justice in Harry Kane breaking England’s men’s scoring record from the spot in Naples.
It was Kane’s 18th successful conversion (from 22 attempts) on the international stage, and it is his reliability from the spot that made his miss against France in Qatar all the more surprising.
– More: How Harry Kane broke the England goals record
It has long been a case of “when” and not “if” Kane would surpass Wayne Rooney’s tally of 53 goals, but doing so at the first opportunity after his World Cup disappointment is testament to the strength of character Southgate praised Kane for pre-match.
The tributes poured in on social media, led by Rooney himself, in recognition of a player whose contribution to his country’s cause is now unmatched. Kane’s clever hold-up play, particularly in the first half, was a reminder his ability extends far beyond goal-scoring.
The challenge for Kane now — and for England as a team — is to win a trophy to stand alongside these individual achievements.
3. Second-half struggles still a worry for England
England’s tournament exits under Southgate have largely followed a similar pattern: start well, take the lead but then lose control in midfield after half-time, drop deep and eventually succumb.
The Euro 2020 final between, also against Italy, followed that precise path, as did England’s 2018 World Cup semifinal exit to Croatia. And although the composition of last winter’s defeat to France in Qatar was different, they still lost the game in the second period.
So, after a superb opening 45 minutes on Thursday, which finished with a shocking miss from Jack Grealish that would have surely ended this as a contest, England regressed again. Italy began to take control of the midfield battle and mistakes crept into England’s play, most obviously a palpably avoidable red card for Luke Shaw.
The fact England hung on despite these late wobbles should give them great heart. However, even though it is clear that teams cannot always dominate opponents for 90 minutes, it is those periods of fragility that have cost England early in the past. Southgate must be mindful of the work still to do to eradicate these mishaps when it matters most.
Best and worst performers
Best: Jude Bellingham, England
Italy could not cope with his marauding play in the first half and although his influence waned after the restart, the 19-year-old left the impression once again that he belongs at this level.
Best: Mateo Retegui, Italy
Had to wait for his chance but showed impressive composure on his debut to halve the deficit.
Best: Harry Kane, England
Some of his link-up play was sublime and ended his wait to break the record.
Worst: Harry Maguire, England
Tried to win the ball back high up the pitch but lost the challenge and left a gaping hole for Retegui to score.
Worst: Jack Grealish, England
Missed a glorious chance on the stroke of half-time and lost the ball too often before his 69th-minute substitution.
Worst: Luke Shaw, England
Put his teammates under pressure with his red card.
Highlights and notable moments
It didn’t take long for England to strike first with Declan Rice smashing a fortuitous bounce into the goal within just 13 minutes.
THERE IT IS 🎉
Declan Rice gives @England the early 1-0 lead over Italy! 🏴 pic.twitter.com/nnpz5Cuxnl
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 23, 2023
A few minutes from halftime, Italian defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo was caught with his hand touching the ball in the box, possibly interfering with Harry Kane being able to win it. After a VAR review, the referee pointed to the spot.
Kane knocked the penalty home, and he officially became England’s top scorer, male or female, surpassing Wayne Rooney’s 53 international goals.
HE’S DONE IT! 👏
Harry Kane has now scored more goals for England than any other player in men’s national team’s history, breaking Wayne Rooney’s record (54) 🏴 pic.twitter.com/SpTBZcspti
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 23, 2023
After the match: What the managers and players said
England manager Gareth Southgate on Kane’s record: “To break the record with a lot of his career to go is an incredible achievement. The players gave him a brilliant reception afterwards, that was in response to breaking the record and what he had to recover from. I can’t remember what he said but I’m sure it was a on a video as everything is videoed these days and nothing stays in house. Everybody recognised it was a special, historic moment and he deserves every bit of praise that he gets.”
England striker Harry Kane on the meaning of the result: “It is the first time England have won in Italy for a long, long time. To be a part of that is amazing. I just want to say a big thanks to all my teammates, the staff, the fans, my family back home and my wife. Just a really special night for me and a night I will never forget. I’m just really proud. Thank you to everyone in here and everyone who has made this dream a reality.”
Kane on his future: “I don’t like to look too far ahead because a lot can happen in football. But I’m 29, I’m feeling fit and I’m feeling strong. I’m feeling probably the best I’ve felt in my career so far. So I hope I have many more years. Playing for England is probably my greatest feeling in football and I want to do it for as long as possible. As a striker I want to score in every game. But now it’s time to get ready for Sunday because we have to make sure we win that now and make sure it’s a really good camp. Hopefully many more [goals].”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Harry Kane reached 54 career international goals and passed Wayne Rooney for most in England national team history (men’s or women’s).
Kane scored a penalty against Italy, and now 18 of Kane’s 54 career England goals have been penalties, including five of his last six.
Italy’s 40-game unbeaten streak in Euro qualifiers ends (34-6-0). Italy hadn’t lost in Euro qualifiers since Sept. 6, 2006 against France.
Italy: Gli Azzurri are back in action for Euro qualifying against Malta on Sunday, March 26.
England: The Three Lions continue their Euro qualification campaign in this window against Ukraine on Sunday, March 26.