Seeking amends for a humiliating UEFA Nations League campaign last summer, England returned to action for the first time since a heartbreaking quarter-final exit at December’s World Cup.
Without Marcus Rashford, who pulled out of the Three Lions squad due to injury, Gareth Southgate relied on usual suspects Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka to lead the line in Naples.
However, Italy had the opening chance of the night, as Lorenzo Pellegrini caught England’s backline napping, only for Giovanni Di Lorenzo to spurn a golden opportunity only three minutes into the game.
Gli Azzurri dominated early proceedings, deploying high press and controlling the pace with quick, precise exchanges, though the visitors came close to breaking the deadlock in the eighth minute.
Saka took advantage of a scrappy play inside Italy’s opening third, but his right-foot finish wasn’t good enough to put Gianluigi Donnarumma to any real test.
His attempt was a sign of things to come as Southgate’s men took the lead only five minutes later through West Ham United ace Declan Rice.
Donnarumma tipped the ball over the crossbar following Jude Bellingham’s mid-range thunderbolt, yet Rice pounced on a loose ball inside the six-yard box from the resulting corner to fire the visitors up.
Rice’s opener shifted momentum to England’s favour, but clear-cut chances were hard to come by until Kalvin Phillips probably made a wrong decision.
The forgotten Manchester City midfielder gave it a go from long-range distance midway through the first half when he had Kane and Saka wide open as the chance went begging.
But England deservedly doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time as Harry Kane made history from the spot, overtaking Wayne Rooney as the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Despite refusing to give the Three Lions a penalty at first glance, referee Srdjan Jovanovic pointed to the spot after consulting with the side-pitch monitor, with the talismanic striker ruthlessly finishing from 12 yards.
Southgate’s men could’ve gone 3-0 up only moments later, but Jack Grealish unfathomably failed to put the ball in the empty net from point-blank after latching onto Kane’s inviting low cross on the back post.
Italy flew out of the traps in the second half, searching for a way to cut England’s lead down, with debutant Mateo Retegui painting his maiden appearance for Gli Azzurri with flying colours.
Pellegrini dispatched a pinpoint pass into the 23-year-old’s stride, who comfortably slotted the ball past hapless Jordan Pickford into the bottom corner.
Whether it was due to Roberto Mancini’s tactical alterations or Southgate’s rookie mistake of dropping his lines back and wasting time, Italy utterly outclassed England in the second half.
The visitors’ shameful second-half approach put them in a lot of trouble late in the game as Luke Shaw picked up two silly yellow cards in the space of two minutes, leaving his side a man down.
Southgate’s poor in-game management came back to bite him, with Shaw’s expulsion forcing him to withdraw Phil Foden after only 12 minutes in favour of Kieran Trippier.
After a stellar performance in the first half, where they had Italy on the ropes, England vanished from the field in the second 45 minutes, letting the home side ask all the questions.
Southgate’s decision to relinquish every bit of attacking ambition after the break saw the Three Lions complete the second half without a single attempt on goal.
Luckily for the visitors, their self-destructing second-half showing didn’t come back to haunt them as they avenged a Euro 2020 heartbreak, becoming the first nation to win a European qualifier on Italian soil in the 21st century.
Gianluigi Donnarumma (5/10) – Made several vital stops to keep Italy in the match. Couldn’t do anything for any of England’s goals.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo (3/10) – Will want to forget this night as quickly as possible. After squandering a presentable chance early on, gave away a cheap penalty to put clear daylight between the sides.
Rafael Toloi (6/10) – Barely put his foot wrong throughout the night. Impressively cool with the ball at his feet.
Francesco Acerbi (6/10) – Caught off guard by Kane a couple of times in the first half but gradually grew into the game to keep the Spurs superstar quiet for the rest of the match.
Leonardo Spinazzola (6/10) – Pushed forward whenever he could. His crossing and dribbling in one-on-one situations were nowhere near his Euro 2020 standards.
Nicolo Barella (4/10)- Spent more time arguing with referees instead of paying attention to his below-par display.
Jorginho (5/10) – While his short passes were spot on as usual, a lack of creativity from deep inside the midfield let his team down.
Marco Verratti (7/10) – Arguably Italy’s best-performing midfielder tonight, but it wasn’t enough to outmanoeuvre England’s mercurial engine room.
Lorenzo Pellegrini (7/10) – Delivered several high-quality balls to his forwards, none of which came to fruition before Retegui converted his inch-perfect through ball.
Domenico Berardi (3/10) – Back to the national team after an injury-hit 2022, yet struggled to cope with Luke Shaw’s pace and strength.
Mateo Retegui (7/10) – Did his best to get involved in the game on his international debut and was rewarded for his trouble early in the second half.
Matteo Politano – (5/10)
Bryan Cristante – (5/10)
Sandro Tonali – (6/10)
Wilfried Gnonto – (6/10)
Gianluca Scamacca – N/A
Jordan Pickford (5/10) – Had absolutely nothing to do in the first half. Powerless to stop Retegui in a one-on-one.
Luke Shaw (4/10) – Ventured forward at will and delivered numerous sublime crosses from the left. However, cast a shadow on his performance with a two-minute madness.
Harry Maguire (7/10) – Another near-flawless performance for the national team from the Manchester United scapegoat.
John Stones (7/10) – Won virtually every aerial duel coming his way. Kept his head cool when asked to orchestrate build-up play from the back.
Kyle Walker (6/10) – Had Roma utility man Leonardo Spinazzola in his back pocket all night long but failed to produce anything meaningful going forward.
Kalvin Phillips (6/10) – A bit rusty from the Man City man. Nothing to be surprised about, given his sparse playing time at the Etihad Stadium this season.
Declan Rice (8/10) – Nothing went past him in Naples and was calm and composed on the ball as ever. Dictated the pace of the game with precision and authority.
Jude Bellingham (6/10) – Another midfield masterstroke from Borussia Dortmund’s star man. Bossed the middle of the pitch like a senior professional in the first half. Nowhere to be seen in the second 45 minutes.
Jack Grealish (5/10) – Had an inexplicable miss late in the first half and failed to impact the game the way he would’ve wanted. Wasteful display from one of Pep Guardiola’s favourites.
Bukayo Saka (5/10) – His corner-kick delivery led to England’s opener but otherwise found little freedom on the right-hand side. Not one of his best showings.
Harry Kane (9/10) *MOTM* – Slotted home a perfect penalty to make history. Too bad Grealish’s wayward finish denied him an assist. By far England’s best player tonight.
Phil Foden – N/A
Kieran Trippier – N/A
Reece James – N/A
Conor Gallagher – N/A
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