England roar back to beat Italy and clinch Euro 2024 qualification

England produced a scintillating comeback to beat Italy 3-1 at Wembley and secure their place at Euro 2024.

Gareth Southgate’s side, needing only a point to qualify for next summer’s tournament, fell behind to Gianluca Scamacca’s early opener, but captain Harry Kane led the response, converting a penalty then scoring a clinical second after a breakaway strike from Marcus Rashford.

England were again indebted to Kane’s goalscoring heroics as he took his international tally to 61, but Jude Bellingham was the real star, winning the penalty for the equaliser then producing a sensational burst of pace to set up Rashford for the second.

The victory puts England on 16 points in Group C, three ahead of second-placed Ukraine, and guarantees their advance to next summer’s tournament in Germany in top spot.

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Lee Hendrie was left impressed by Jude Bellingham’s role in Marcus Rashford’s goal against Italy

Luciano Spalletti’s Italy, meanwhile, now risk missing out on a second consecutive major tournament, the defeat leaving them on 10 points, three behind Ukraine, albeit having played one game less.

Player ratings

England: Pickford (7), Walker (7), Stones (6), Maguire (7), Trippier (6), Phillips (6), Rice (7), Bellingham (9), Foden (8), Rashford (8), Kane (8).

Subs:Guehi (6), Henderson (6), Grealish (n/a).

Italy: Donnarumma (6), Di Lorenzo (6), Scalvini (6), Acerbi (6), Udogie (7), Frattesi (7), Cristante (6), Barella (7), Berardi (6), Scamacca (7), El Shaarawy (6).

Subs: Dimarco (6), Bastoni (6), Kean, Raspadori (6), Orsolini (n/a).

Player of the match: Jude Bellingham.

Security ramped up at Wembley

There was a heightened security presence at Wembley after the killings of two Swedish nationals caused Belgium’s Euro 2024 Qualifier against Sweden to be abandoned at half-time on Monday night.

The Metropolitan Police announced there would be a “robust policing plan” in place for Tuesday’s game in the wake of that incident, including a visibly increased number of police officers in and around the stadium.

How England bounced back to clinch Euro spot

Italy came into the game to a backdrop of disarray, with Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo having been withdrawn from the squad as part of an investigation into illegal betting.

Team news

  • Gareth Southgate reverted to his strongest team following the Australia friendly, with Harry Maguire, Kalvin Phillips and Phil Foden among those starting.
  • Italy boss Luciano Spalletti handed a full debut to Tottenham full-back Destiny Udogie. Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo were unavailable having been withdrawn from the squad due to a gambling investigation.

Spalletti described that episode as “traumatic” for his squad, but they looked unaffected in the early stages, soaking up England’s pressure then cutting through them for the opener.

The goal was well-worked as Destiny Udogie and Stephan El Shaarawy combined to launch the attack and Scamacca capitalised on slack England marking to dispatch his first Italy goal.

Italy’s incisive attacking play contrasted with England’s more ponderous approach but when the hosts did manage to force an opening, it resulted in their penalty, with Giovanni Di Lorenzo lunging in on Bellingham and the decision rightly upheld by VAR.

Kane dispatched the spot kick coolly to restore parity and England had a chance to go ahead soon afterwards when the striker expertly took down Jordan Pickford’s long kick and fed Rashford, whose low, angled shot was parried by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

England almost conceded a second in first-half stoppage time, however, when Udogie’s low effort, following intricate build-up play, forced a low, one-handed save from the alert Pickford.

That chance was another warning sign to the hosts but they emerged from the break with far greater urgency to their play as Phillips fired over from Phil Foden’s lay-off before Rashford put them in front.

It was a dazzling goal, the move starting deep in England territory as Foden fed Bellingham, who charged through the heart of Italy’s defence in sensational style before finding Rashford. The Manchester United forward then cut inside and buried a low finish.

Bellingham was proving too good for Italy, delivering another display to defy his years, and so too was the electric Foden, who drew another save from Donnarumma before Kane added the third.

It was another fine goal as the England captain held off two Italy defenders to run through on goal and finish coolly past Donnarumma, creating a party atmosphere inside the ground as England celebrated their advance to an eighth consecutive major tournament with two games to spare.

Southgate: We were relentless

England manager Gareth Southgate to Channel 4: “We’re so hungry, so eager to learn, so together. And you saw that in the performance tonight. We said before that mentality was the main thing. The performance was relentless tonight.

“What was really pleasing was that when we went behind we stayed calm and used the ball calmly from the back. In other big games we have lost the ball too easily. Our forwards worked so hard. When your front players play like that it is a great thing for the team.

“There were times in the first half we were passive near our own goal. The biggest difference in the last couple of years is that we have more legs and physicality in midfield. You need to be outstanding without the ball against world-class teams.

“They [our forwards] are all different and bring different qualities. We have dribblers, speed in behind and players who can come short. But you always need the work ethic. In the biggest games you can’t carry players and that really pleased me in the performance.

“Ideally, we would have everyone playing regularly, but you can see Kalvin (Phillips) and Harry (Maguire) were both outstanding tonight. They are both important for us. They are up against really good players at their clubs. Kalvin has Rodri and (Mateo) Kovacic to compete with. But every time Kalvin plays for us he does a good job.

“We need to make sure we are one of the top seeds next month. We need to win our next two games. We want to be in control of that. We need to keep building. There is more to come from this team. This was the toughest qualifying group, with the seedings. People have criticised us for not beating the top teams enough. But we have performed really well.”

Bellingham: I’m getting better each time I play

England midfielder Jude Bellingham told Channel 4: “I am getting a little better each time I play.

“A really good night for us, we all remember what happened a few years ago when they played us here. You always aim for progression. We are heading in the right direction and a very important win for us.

“I am loving football at the minute. My management at club and country are giving me freedom to play it how I see it.

Jude Bellingham celebrates after setting up the second goal
Image:
Jude Bellingham celebrates after setting up the second goal

“Since the last few months I have been really working on my timing getting into the box and as I am arriving I am arriving with a big hunger.

“With the big transfer the fact is I have to deliver, whether it is a goal or assist or a match-winning performance.

“This is the club I want to be at for the next 10-15 years of my life. I am loving it there. Carlo (Ancelotti) basically said this position is where he sees me.

“One hundred per cent it has improved me. When you are around those mentalities and quality of players every day… it takes you to a new level mentally, physically and technically.”

Analysis: Bellingham scaling remarkable heights

Jude Bellingham started running deep in his own half and kept on going, his legs pumping and defenders trailing in his wake as the space opened up and the Wembley crowd rose to its feet.

That sensational, surging sprint to set up Marcus Rashford’s crucial, second goal was an exhilarating sight to behold and just the latest example of a young player hitting staggering heights.

Harry Maguire said afterwards there is “no chance” that any other midfielder comes close to him right now and you can’t really argue otherwise. Not when this one-man wrecking ball is capable of laying waste to European giants internationally as well as domestically.

What he is doing, at only 20 years old, is extraordinary. His first 10 games for Real Madrid, the biggest club in the world, have yielded 10 goals. He is yet to find that prolific streak in an England shirt but what does that matter when he is doing so much else?

He won the penalty for England’s equaliser, proving too quick for Giovanni Di Lorenzo inside the Italy box, and his explosive power was even more evident for that sensational second goal.

Italy simply could not handle him, their beleaguered players left with little choice but to haul him down. Indeed, in addition to making more successful dribbles than any of his team-mates, Bellingham won the most fouls. He topped the rankings for chances created and interceptions too, underlining his all-round contribution.

His completeness is scary. Or rather, it is scary for England’s opponents. For England themselves, it is a reason to dream of Euro 2024 glory. Because, as Italy found out on Tuesday night, Bellingham can be difficult to stop when he gets going.

What’s next?

England return to action next month to play their final two Euro 2024 qualifiers as they host Malta at Wembley on November 17; kick-off 7.45pm.

Gareth Southgate’s side then finish their Group C campaign with an away game against North Macedonia on November 20; kick-off 7.45pm.

Meanwhile, Italy’s final two qualifiers in November are against North Macedonia at home and Ukraine away.

Euro 2024 starts on June 14.

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