LONDON ― Harry Kane scored a brace as a Jude Bellingham-inspired England came from behind to beat holders Italy 3-1 and march into the Euro 2024 finals in a Group C qualifier at Wembley today.
The visitors stunned the home crowd when Gianluca Scamacca swept in a cross from Giovanni di Lorenzo against the run of play in the 15th minute for his first goal with the national team.
England, who lost the Euro 2020 final to Italy on penalties at the same stadium in 2021, equalised in the 32nd when Bellingham, the outstanding player of the evening, surged into the area and was brought down by a late Di Lorenzo tackle.
The penalty was given a long VAR check before captain Kane calmly stepped up and slotted home, sending Gianluigi Donnarumma diving the wrong way.
Marcus Rashford made it 2-1 in style in the 57th, firing a blistering shot into the bottom corner after Real Madrid forward Bellingham set him up.
Kane then scored his second of the night in the 77th, pushing off defenders to score as manager Gareth Southgate punched the air in delight with his side qualifying unbeaten, with two games to spare and 16 points from six games.
The goals took Kane’s tally at Wembley to 24, one more than 1966 World Cup winner Bobby Charlton and making him England’s all-time top scorer at the stadium.
“Qualifying is never easy. Sometimes we are just expected to go to the big tournaments but we have seen in the past it is not as easy as it looks,” Kane told Channel Four television.
“We went 1-0 behind and stayed calm. We knew we could get the winner and we have done it.”
It was the first time since 1949 that England had won consecutive games against Italy, who lost 2-1 in Naples in March.
The defeat left Luciano Spalletti’s Italy third in the group, on 10 points and facing a battle with second-placed Ukraine, who have played one more, for the other direct qualifying slot from the group.
“We played a good game but gave away things that you cannot afford to concede to England because they will punish you immediately,” said the Italian.
England, needing only a draw to punch their ticket for the finals in Germany, started with a completely changed lineup from the second-string side that beat Australia 1-0 in a friendly at Wembley on Friday.
The difference was immediate, with slick passing and Bellingham a driving force, while Italy remained dangerous on the break.
Southgate handed Kalvin Phillips his first England start since March, in a midfield trio with Bellingham and Declan Rice, despite the Manchester City player’s lack of game time at club level.
Jordan Henderson, the starting captain on Friday, came on as a late substitute for Phillips with Bellingham also replaced by Jack Grealish with five minutes remaining.
A moment’s silence was held before the match after a suspected Islamist gunman shot dead two Swedish soccer fans ahead of a qualifier with Belgium in Brussels on Monday. ― Reuters