Harry Kane became England’s record goalscorer as Gareth Southgate’s side clung on after Luke Shaw’s red card to begin their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with a 2-1 win away at Group C rivals Italy.
Just 103 days ago it was heartache from the penalty spot for the England captain when he blazed over in the World Cup quarter-final defeat to France, but he showed excellent composure to send Gianluigi Donnarumma the wrong way and double his side’s advantage just before half-time in Naples.
His 54th strike for his country takes him clear of Wayne Rooney’s record on his 81st cap and helped give England an ideal start in their bid to reach the finals in Germany next summer – although a second-half fightback from the hosts and Shaw’s two bookings in quick succession made for an extremely nervy finish.
England – driven by a standout display from 19-year-old Jude Bellingham – had taken control of the contest in the first half and grabbed the lead when Declan Rice (13) answered critics about his own goal return by pouncing on a rebound from a blocked Kane shot.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s handball from a corner was then eventually given as VAR advised referee Srdjan Jovanovic to check the pitchside monitor, and after Kane converted Jack Grealish should have made it 3-0.
But in the stadium named after Napoli legend Diego Maradona, Mateo Retegui, born and raised in Argentina, fittingly marked his first Italy appearance with a blast past Jordan Pickford (56) and as the bookings stacked up for the visitors – with ref Jovanovic clamping down on any hint of time-wasting – Shaw was shown a second yellow when tempers flared on both sides following his foul on Retegui.
But England held firm and at the final whistle celebrated their hard-fought three points. They hadn’t won away in Italy since 1961 and the Azzurri hadn’t lost any of their last 40 Euros qualifiers, so Southgate’s 50th victory in charge was a significant one and a welcome response to an ultimately unsatisfying World Cup campaign before Christmas.
With the top two from Group C qualifying automatically for Euro 2024, England are now in a fantastic position, level at the top with North Macedonia who beat Malta, with Ukraine to play at Wembley on Sunday.
How England hung on to beat Italy on Kane’s special night
Ahead of kick-off there were tributes to Italy and Chelsea legend Gianluca Vialli, who passed away in January. Vialli had been on Roberto Mancini’s staff when Italy beat England to win the Euros in the summer of 2021 but since then the national team has fallen away from that level. They failed to qualify for the World Cup and were poor in the first half on Thursday night.
- Kyle Walker beat Reece James and Kieran Trippier to the right-back role in England’s 4-3-3, with Kalvin Phillips a surprise starter in midfield and Jack Grealish favoured to Phil Foden on the left of the attack.
- Italy were without veteran centre-back and captain Leonardo Bonucci due to injury but handed striker Mateo Retegui his first international cap.
They started on the front foot, with Di Lorenzo badly miscuing a well-worked free-kick, but after that early warning England got up to speed, with Bellingham setting up a shot from Bukayo Saka before his own drive was tipped over by Donnarumma. From the resulting corner England took the lead.
Saka’s deep set-piece found Kane and Rice was the quickest to react when the captain’s shot ricocheted his way, converting his third international goal by thudding a left-foot strike into the ground.
Kane almost teed up Bellingham with a drilled cross through the six-yard box which was just out of the teenager’s reach, while Kalvin Phillips nearly marked his surprise start with a goal from the edge of the box but pulled his effort just wide before Retegui saw a rare Italian effort blocked by John Stones.
England had been frustrated by some of the refereeing calls in the half but ref Jovanovic was swayed in their favour when he checked the pitchside monitor and saw the ball hit Di Lorenzo’s arm as he put a hand on Kane’s chest.
The penalty from Kane was emphatic and showed no signs of the nerves he must surely have been feeling given the enormity of the moment and his experience from 12 yards when he was last in an England shirt.
With Grealish wasting a glorious chance to add a third on the stroke of half-time, there only seemed likely to be one winner. But England didn’t get going at all in the second half and Retegui deservedly pulled one back for the hosts when Harry Maguire’s poor pass out was swiftly punished.
Maguire was booked for a foul in the build-up to that goal and the yellow cards continued to be brandished by Jovanovic, with Walker and Shaw done for time-wasting. Moments later Shaw took down Retegui. Both sets of players were incensed, with England complaining about Maguire being down injured earlier in the move, but eventually, after a minute and 10 seconds of deliberation, Jovanovic showed the red card.
With the numerical advantage Italy threw the ball into the box but, switching to a back three, England repelled everything that came at them to hang on for an important and historic win which will be remembered for Kane’s record-breaking moment.
Kane: It means everything, a magical moment
Harry Kane speaking to Channel 4:
On breaking the record: “It means everything. I was so excited to put the England shirt back on and get the campaign started for the Euros. It had to be a penalty of course! When the ball hit the net there was so much emotion. A huge thanks to the players, staff, fans, my wife, everyone back home who has helped me get to this stage. It’s a magical moment.
On the penalty: “I know what I can do. I practice, I work hard. I picked my spot and thankfully I put it away. It’s a great night winning in Italy. To score, it’s special.
“The World Cup was a difficult way for it to end but we had to get back to it. We feel we’re one of the best teams in Europe and we just got to keep knocking on the door. We’re getting close. Coming here and putting on a performance like that means we’re ready for the next challenge.”
On overtaking Wayne Rooney: “I was on the pitch when Wayne broke the record and I know what it meant to him and how proud I was. When I presented him the boot for breaking the record he said to me that he’d be giving it back to you one day. He’s a special guy, and England legend.”
In pictures: Kane breaks the England scoring record
Rooney’s reaction to Kane’s record-breaking goal
Southgate: An incredible achievement from Kane; We should have had game buried
England boss Gareth Southgate: “[Kane’s] overall performance was outstanding – he dominated the centre-backs. You could see from early on he was on it. To break the record in the manner that he did shows the strength of his character and mentality. I couldn’t be happier for him and his family – they are lovely people. He is a brilliant professional.
“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.
“We showed two sides. We had great control from the back in the first half and when we broke through their first line of pressure we looked dangerous. We should’ve had the game buried. It should’ve been 3-0 at half-time.
“If you start a second half like we did, you’re going to be in trouble and we conceded a really poor goal from several errors. Then the emotion of the evening changes as you give the crowd and opposition a lift. We then had to deal with going down to 10 but we found a way to be as compact as we could with extra energy to deal with that.
“In the end we had to grind and dig in away from home which is hugely important and it was a massive result. But we’d prefer more of the first half than the second.”
Where and when is Euro 2024?
Germany are hosting the tournament which is scheduled to take place from 14 June to 14 July 2024.
The format will be the same as Euro 2020 where the top two in each of the six final tournament groups will proceed to the round of 16 along with the four best third-placed finishers.
What do England need to qualify from Group C?
The group winners and runners-up advance directly to the final tournament of 24 teams.
The remaining three teams will be decided through the play-offs, featuring 12 teams selected based on their performance in the 2022/23 Nations League.
England’s Group C schedule…
England will play home and away against Italy, Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta in Group C. After this evening, their fixture list is as follows:
- Mar 26, 2023 – England vs Ukraine
- Jun 16, 2023 – Malta vs England
- Jun 19, 2023 – England vs North Macedonia
- Sep 9, 2023 – Ukraine vs England
- Oct 17, 2023 – England vs Italy
- Nov 17, 2023 – England vs Malta
- Nov 20, 2023 – North Macedonia vs England
England host Ukraine in their next European Championship Qualifier at Wembley on Sunday; kick off 5pm.
Italy are away to Malta at the Ta’ Qali National Stadium on the same day in Group C; kick off 7.45pm.