WITH one strike of the boot, Harry Kane blasted away the demons of England’s last two major tournament defeats and became his nation’s greatest goalscorer.
It was Kane’s infamous penalty miss which cost England their chance of dethroning champions France at the World Cup, and it was Roberto Mancini’s Italy who had denied them glory in the Euros final of 2021.
But on a historic night when Gareth Southgate’s men played with an astonishing first-half swagger, Kane’s penalty overhauled Wayne Rooney’s all-time scoring record as ten-man England defeated Italy on their own soil for the first time in 62 years.
Kane might not have wanted it to be a penalty, after his ordeal in Qatar but despite a lengthy VAR check before the spot-kick was awarded for a handball by Giovanni Di Lorenzo, the Tottenham striker held his nerve.
This was a vintage performance from Kane, who weathered a physical buffering from Italy’s central defenders and led from the front – perhaps inspired by his Italian club manager Antonio Conte’s rant at “selfish” Spurs players after a late blow-up at Southampton.
There were outstanding contributions too from Declan Rice, who scored the opener, from Jude Bellingham, who bossed the midfield like no teenager has any right to, and from Buyako Saka who is absolutely full of it.
The first-half display was certainly England’s best since the 3-2 victory over Spain in Seville in 2018.
And while they had to dig deep to preserve their lead after half-time, especially after Luke Shaw’s red card, this was a statement victory for
That will soon change, as Napoli are runaway leaders this season and the city is already decked out in blue and white bunting awaiting the victory party.
There was vociferous support for the national team too, and England will be satisfied with the way they navigated a hostile environment to cling on to their lead.
Southgate made two changes from the side beaten by France in the World Cup quarter-final – Jack Grealish replacing his Manchester City team-mate Phil Foden and the lesser-spotted Kalvin Phillips in for Jordan Henderson.
England were soon strutting their stuff, high tempo pass and move, and they deserved their 13th-minute lead.
Saka had won two challenges he had no right to win and forced the first save of the night from Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It was a gorgeous move over the full length of pitch to force the corner which brought the opener.
Grealish fed Bellingham who let rip with a fierce rising shot which Donnarumma tipped over.
But when Saka swung over the corner, Kane’s shot was blocked by Leonardo Spinazzola and Rice lashed home left-footed.
England were positive, aggressive, expansive and fluent, with Rice so influential at the base of midfield.
His booking for time-wasting was one of the most ridiculous yellow cards you will ever see.
England were in a hurry to inflict more damage on the Italians.
Kalvin Phillips pinged a shot just wide from the edge of the area and shortly before half-time, Kane’s moment arrived.
Again it came from a Saka corner, Di Lorenzo handling under pressure from Kane.
Serbian ref Srdjan Jovanovic was sent to his monitor and looked long and hard before he pointed to the spot.
Kane thumped it to Donnarumma’s left, the keeper diving the wrong way for his 54th international goal, then raced to the corner flag where he was mobbed.
And the England skipper was straight back to work, another liquid move ended with Kane squaring for Grealish who had time to pick his spot but tried to be too clever with his finish and screwed it horribly wide.
Had Grealish scored that, it would have been the perfect half of football from the visitors.
After the break, though, a chastened Italy looked an entirely different team and within 11 minutes they had reduced the deficit.
Harry Maguire stepped out of defence, lunged at Nicolo Barella, who fed Marco Verratti, then Lorenzo Pellegrini found Nicolo Retegui who thumped past Pickford.
It was a debut for Retegui, an Argentinian sourced by the Italians through the grandparent rule, and it was a decent strike.
Suddenly Italy were right on the front foot and it was often Rice who was snuffing out danger.
But their resistance was shaken by Shaw receiving two yellow cards in the space of 54 seconds – the first for time-wasting, the second for a foul.
Kieran Trippier arrived in place of Foden, who had only recently replaced
Soon it was a 5-3-1 as Reece James and Conor Gallagher arrived for Saka and Bellingham.
And England held out, after a game of two wildly contrasting halves, for one of their best results of this century.