England kicked off their Euro 2024 qualification bid with a classic game of two halves that ended with a 2-1 win in Naples – England’s first win against Italy in Italy since 1961 – to bag three welcome points from what is on paper the toughest assignment of a potentially banana-skinnish qualification group.
And Harry Kane scored his 54th England goal to go past Wayne Rooney’s all-time record. So all in all, a good night for England fans. Lots in the first half for the optimists to enjoy, plenty in the second half for the doom-mongers to latch on to. Lovely.
Here’s how the players rated…
Couple of shaky moments with the ball at his feet but after being left utterly exposed by his defence for Italy’s goal had pleasingly little to do despite the Azzurri’s dominance of the closing stages.
A very busy boy in the second half as Italy took control of proceedings, and was just starting to fray at the edges after picking up a booking and with Wilfried Gnonto running at him seemingly constantly. Was given Reece James for extra assistance over the closing minutes and this was one defensive move for which Gareth Southgate is unlikely to face too much flak.
Two bookings in two minutes always looks bad, doesn’t it? The first one for time-wasting was harsh – we’re huge admirers of Italy’s ability to be arch sh*thouses yet have an attack of the vapours if they perceive the slightest hint of anyone employing anything even approaching the dark arts against them – but once you’ve got that first booking your days of diving in to tackles 40 yards from goal are over and Shaw has been around the block enough times now to know this. Shame, because he’d been fine up to then, with a couple of nice set-piece deliveries in the first half.
Good block to deny Retegui on a rare first-half foray for Italy and spent much of the second half getting himself in the way of Italian shots. Very good indeed over a testing closing period that could have very easily been far more fraught than it was.
Will be enormously grateful for both the result and the inevitable focus on the Harry Kane record, because while he was generally sound his part in Italy’s goal was calamitous. First gave the ball away horribly cheaply in a dangerous area, and then dived into a reckless amends-making attempt that, once the referee played a smart advantage, left England’s backline bent entirely out of shape, utterly exposed and overmatched. Then got booked for it all to rub salt into the wounds.
Sent a decent shot narrowly wide on the half-hour but probably should have played in Kane, who’d got the wrong side of his marker. Played more minutes here than he has in the Premier League all season and it was really starting to show as Italy took control of the second half.
Right place, right time to whack home the opening goal, and 15 minutes later produced a brilliantly timed slide tackle to deny Barella a shooting chance on the edge of the England box. Which makes him at the very, very least a two-dimensional midfielder. Very good as England dominated the first half, very important as England held on in the second.
Provided the touches of class and composure that settled England after a slightly iffy start and quelled Italy’s lively opening. His quick feet won a free-kick, and he stung Donnarumma’s fingertips with a fierce drive after a good move involving Saka, Kane and Grealish. And from the resulting corner, England opened the scoring. By far the most influential player on the pitch in the first half, and thus the second half poses a chicken-and-egg question. Did Bellingham fade because England lost control or did England lose control because Bellingham faded? Was certainly limping heavily by the time he made way for excitable puppy Conor Gallagher.
Some nice moments and incisive runs. All the customary intelligence and craft of his football was on display, but this was an evening when the end product just wasn’t quite there for whatever reason. No drama, no major cause for concern. Just one of those things.
Really bright start from English football’s pre-eminent Home Alone 2 fan. Playing better right now than he has at any point since his Villa Pomp and with an end product to go with the party tricks. Prominent in the liquid attack that produced the corner from which Rice opened the scoring but faded in the second half before being replaced by Phil Foden. Missed a big chance at the end of the first half; he should have scored, but it wasn’t quite the open-goal tap-in it first appeared.
Produced a few of those runs and passes and bits of magnetic hold-up play that make him so, so good and so thoroughly enrage those people – people who are by this stage far beyond hope – who think he should just spend 90 minutes goal-hanging in the six-yard box like a proper forward. He doesn’t want to score goals, does he? Which makes it weird how he’s got 54 of them for England. Of course it was a penalty, and he took it with icy cool. Although we personally don’t remotely agree with Dion Dublin’s assessment that “you never felt he was missing that”. We totally felt he was missing that, from the moment the first replay showed what was about to unfold. That’s on us, though. Kane made no mistake and now it’s just a question of how far out of reach he puts that record for everyone else; when Rooney scored his record-breaking 50th England goal, he was already able to identify the man who was going to one day usurp him. Kane could put this record miles out of sight for decades to come.
PHIL FODEN (for Grealish, 69)
Got a whole 12 minutes before being sacrificed after Shaw’s red card.
KIERAN TRIPPIER (for Foden, 81)
Filled in at left-back and played his part in what was a pretty solid and professional closing out of the game by England after the red.
REECE JAMES (for Saka, 85)
Came on late so England could double up on Leeds mischief-maker Wilfried Gnonto, who had been becoming worrisome for a disciplinary-tightrope-walking Walker until James came along to help out.
CONOR GALLAGHER (for Bellingham, 85)
Actually more important than it maybe looked. Bellingham was flagging badly and visibly limping by the time he made way for Gallagher, who boosted England’s energy levels for the final push.
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