With all eyes falling on the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday night, England opened their European qualifying adventure with a fiery 2-1 victory away at Italy.
Making what was a major Group C statement on foreign soil, it was Declan Rice who opened the scoring in the 13th minute as the West Ham skipper swept home from inside the box.
However, while Gareth Southgate’s side might have been in complete control as Harry Kane scored what was a history-making goal from the penalty spot seconds before the half-time break, England failed to match a similar level when returning from the interval.
With debutant Mateo Retegui powering home just 11 minutes after the break, the Three Lions had to overcome wave after wave of Italy pressure and things were not helped when Luke Shaw was shown a pair of bookings in the space of 54 seconds.
Nevertheless, although England might have only just about dragged themselves over the finish line, Southgate’s men couldn’t have wished for a better way to start their qualifying adventure.
On a night that saw England gain some level of revenge following their Euro 2020 heartbreak at the hands of Italy 20 months ago, we have taken a look at the main talking points from Naples.
England show their resolve in Naples
Failing to go any further than the World Cup quarter-finals out in Qatar over the winter, it was no secret that Southgate found himself at the heart of mounting pressure.
However, with the FA making it clear that they felt that Southgate was still the right man to take England forward, the 52-year-old would have been desperate for his side to make an early qualifying statement here.
Remarkably losing their elite Nations League status last year after failing to muster a single win from their six group-stage appearances, the Three Lions know that stability is key in 2023.
While Southgate might have been more than aware that his side would face another huge challenge when they made the trip to Naples on Thursday night, England should take plenty of positives away from their eye-catching first-half display.
Although the European giants might have eventually clawed their way over the finish line, they will know that it would take a minor miracle to stop them from booking their ticket to Germany next year.
Getting 2023 underway with a major morale boost following their disappointing World Cup exit over the winter, England will be looking to lay down another marker when they welcome Ukraine to Wembley this weekend.
A history-making night for Kane
While England might have eventually opened their qualifying campaign with a hard-fought victory on Thursday night, it will be the Three Lions’ new record-breaker who should steal most of the headlines.
Although Kane might have suffered his own individual World Cup heartbreak out in Qatar over the winter, Tottenham’s attacking talisman certainly hasn’t shown any signs of a hangover.
Converting from the spot in the 44th minute when he beat Gianluigi Donnarumma, the 29-year-old wrote himself into the history books as he surpassed Wayne Rooney to become England’s all-time record goalscorer.
Slotting away his 54th goal for Southgate’s side, 2023 has quickly become a record-breaking flurry for the free-scoring Kane.
In fact, Tottenham’s homegrown superstar also became Spurs’ all-time leading marksman back on February 5th as he bagged his 267th strike for the Premier League giants.
Still expected to be leading England’s charge over the next few years, it remains to be seen how many international strikes Kane will eventually hang up his boots with.
Another qualifying nightmare for Italy?
While Italy might have made real history at Wembley 20 months ago as they were crowned European champions for a second time, Roberto Mancini’s men have certainly failed to build on that success.
Failing to book their World Cup ticket last year after suffering an infamous 1-0 loss at the hands of North Macedonia, many expected that the one-time Manchester City would be on his way out of the Azzurri dugout.
However, only continuing to gain a reputation for their rather glaring inconsistencies, Thursday’s hosts will simply be looking to avoid what would be another remarkable qualifying collapse.
Likewise, only managing to sign off 2022 with a lackluster 2-0 defeat away at Austria in a friendly showdown, Italy and their star-studded camp will know that they have growing pressure on their shoulders.
Claiming just a quarter of victories from any of their last 14 straight appearances across all competitions, Mancini will know that it is crucial for his side to claim an essential response in a few days time.
Knowing that they could face a real battle in their bid to find a route out of Group C this year, Italy will be next seen when they travel to Malta on Sunday night.
Italy: Donnarumma, Di Lorenzo, Toloi, Acerbi, Spinazzola, Barella, Jorginho, Verratti, Berardi, Retegui, Pellegrini
Subs: Scamacca, Gnoto, Cristante, Politano, Tonali
England: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw, Rice, Phillips, Bellingham, Grealish, Saka, Kane
Subs: Foden, Gallagher, Trippier, Walker
Goals: Italy: Retegui (56′) – England: Rice (13′), Kane (44′ P)
Yellow Cards: Italy: Di Lorenzo, Acerbi, Jorginho – England: Shaw, Maguire, Walker, Rice
Red Cards: Shaw
Referee: Srdjan Jovanovic
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