Harry Kane broke England’s all-time scoring record with his 54th international goal in Thursday’s tight 2-1 win against Italy, which kicked off his team’s Euro 24 qualifying campaign in positive style.
Gareth Southgate’s side was already a goal ahead through Declan Rice when captain Kane scored a 44th-minute penalty to overtake Wayne Rooney and help England to a handy Group C win in Naples over the European champions.
“It means everything. I was so excited to put the England shirt on, get back out, and get the campaign started for next year’s Euros,” said Kane.
Mateo Retegui netted the Italians’ goal on the Argentina-born striker’s debut for his new country 10 minutes after the break. Still, despite late pressure and Luke Shaw being sent off, the Azzurri couldn’t snatch a point in a repeat of the Euro 2020 final.
Tottenham striker Kane had been locked with Rooney on 53 goals for his national team after missing a penalty in England’s World Cup quarter-final defeat by France in December.
However, he made no mistake from the spot this time at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona after Giovanni Di Lorenzo was penalized for handball following a VAR check.
Southgate said on Wednesday that England needed to start beating the big teams to end a nearly six-decade major tournament drought and beating Italy away for the first time since 1961 is a good sign for the rest of qualifying.
It was a frustrating night for Italy as a bad first-half display cost the Azzurri the chance to give England another bloody nose after winning Euro 2020 at their expense and relegating them from the Nations League top tier.
A spirited effort after the break in which they restricted England to very little showed why Roberto Mancini’s side should be one of the two teams which qualify from a five-team group that also features Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta.
“I saw a proper team out there in the second half, and that bodes well for the future,” said Mancini.
“We might be starting on the wrong foot, but we hope it ends up being a smoother ride.”
Thursday’s match was the first since the passing of Gianluca Vialli, and there was a moving pre-match tribute to the former Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea forward, who was a key part of Mancini’s staff.
Vialli, who died in January at 58 following a long battle with pancreatic cancer, was Mancini’s best friend and long-time strike partner in their playing days at Sampdoria in the 1980s and 1990s.
The big screen in the Maradona showed images of Vialli and Mancini celebrating the Euro win while the pitchside hoardings bore the message “Ciao Luca.”
However, once the match got underway, it was England who were the more dangerous side, Bukayo Saka having the game’s first shot on target in the eighth minute after a brief early flurry from the hosts.
Four minutes later, Jude Bellingham stung Gianluigi Donnarumma’s fingers with a powerful shot following great work from Jack Grealish and Kane. From the subsequent corner, the away side was ahead.
The ball fell to Kane, whose shot was blocked, but to Rice, who confidently lashed in the opener.
England continued to push forward after going ahead, and Kalvin Phillips went closest to doubling their lead in the 32nd minute with a low drive until Di Lorenzo handed Kane the chance to make history.
The game looked to be petering out to a straightforward England win. Still, Retegui pulled the hosts back into it with a smart low finish after being brilliantly found by Lorenzo Pellegrini.
And the 45,000 crowds roared on Italy after Shaw was sent off after two quick-fire yellow cards, the second for chopping down Retegui to stop a dangerous Italy attack.
However, Italy couldn’t make the advantage count and lost their first home match in Euro qualifying for the first time in 1999. (AFP)