In their opening match in the Euro 2024 qualifying process, ten-man England defeated Italy 2-1 on Thursday in Naples, Italy, despite a second-half comeback.
Declan Rice’s first-half goal and Harry Kane’s 44th-minute penalty made it England’s first competitive victory against Italy on Italian territory since 1961. Harry Kane’s goal made him England’s all-time leading scorer with 54 goals.
In 13 minutes, Rice gave England the lead by converting the rebound after Kane’s effort from Bukayo Saka’s corner was partially blocked. After Giovanni Di Lorenzo was ruled to have touched the ball in the area by Serbian referee Srdjan Jovanovic after a VAR review, England deserved to extend their advantage and Kane was able to break the previous scoring record for England as a result.
In the second half, Italy came back when Mateo Retegui made his debut by calmly converting Lorenzo Pellegrini’s ball in the 56th minute.
Luke Shaw was dismissed after receiving two yellow cards in short succession—the first for timewasting and the second for a late tackle on Retegui—but England stayed together to win the game despite the home team pushing them back.
Italy lost for the first time in 41 matches dating back to September 2006 in a Euro qualifier.
England creates a new chapter in history.
Under manager Gareth Southgate, England has experienced a number of milestones that have marked real historical advancement, including the nation’s first-ever World Cup penalty shootout victory in 2018, its first-ever appearance in a European Championship final at Euro 2020, and its sixth tournament knockout victory in Qatar, which matched the nation’s total from the previous 48 years.
Although a victory in a Euro qualifying match does not hold the same significance in this pantheon of accomplishments, England hadn’t defeated Italy at home since 1961. Moreover, Italy has a perfect record at home since September 1999. (against Denmark).
The uneven performance of England against the strongest teams under Southgate is one of the few remaining issues that need to be addressed. A win here would give England more confidence going forward and, in the near term, would allow them to seize early control of Group C in the Euro qualifiers.
The ideal way to bounce back from December’s World Cup exit to France, much like the emphatic 4-0 triumph in Hungary earned after losing the Euro 2020 final, would be to defeat Ukraine at home on Sunday. Southgate also managed England to its 50th victory in 82 games, a feat only matched by Walter Winterbottom (78) and Sir Alf Ramsey (69).
Justice for Kane.
The anguish of missing a penalty in England’s quarterfinal World Cup loss to France three months ago won’t ever fully go away. Yet when Harry Kane scored from the penalty spot in Naples, he broke the men’s scoring record for England.
On the international stage, it was Kane’s 18th successful convert (from 22 tries), and his consistency from the free position made his miss against France in Qatar all the more unexpected.
The fact that Kane surpassed Wayne Rooney’s 53 goals at the first available chance following his World Cup loss is evidence of the character strength Southgate complemented Kane for prior to the game.
Social media was flooded with tributes to a player whose dedication to his country’s cause is now unsurpassed, led by Rooney himself. Kane’s deft hold-up play, especially in the first half, served as a reminder that he is capable of much more than just scoring goals.
Kane’s current task is to help England as a team win a trophy to go along with their individual triumphs.
Under Southgate, England’s tournament exits have often followed a similar pattern: the team plays well in the first half, and takes the lead, but after the break, loses control in midfield, drops back, and ultimately loses.
That exact pattern was followed in both the Euro 2020 final against Italy and England’s 2018 World Cup semifinal loss to Croatia. And even though the team that fell to France in Qatar last winter had a different makeup, they nevertheless dropped the game in the second half.
Thus, England regressed once more following a superb first 45 minutes on Thursday that culminated with a terrible mistake from Jack Grealish that would have undoubtedly ended this as a battle. Italy started to have the upper hand in the midfield duel, and English play started to make mistakes, most notably the glaringly needless red card for Luke Shaw.
The fact that England managed to hold on despite these late hiccups should inspire them greatly. Although it is obvious that teams cannot always completely dominate their opponents for 90 minutes, it is those times of weakness that have cost England early in previous matches. Southgate has to be aware of the work that needs to be done to eliminate these accidents when it counts.