Harry Kane became England’s all-time record goalscorer as Gareth Southgate’s side put their World Cup frustration behind them and kicked off European qualification with a win at reigning champions Italy.
It is 103 days since the 29-year-old drew level with Wayne Rooney’s record by scoring a penalty against France, but that night is best remembered for him missing his second spot-kick in a quarter-final exit.
Kane bounced back from that disappointment in historic fashion in Naples, where he lay the ghost of Al Khor to rest by striking from the spot to become England’s leading goalscorer in a 2-1 win against Italy.
ENGLAND'S ALL-TIME RECORD GOALSCORER!— England (@England) March 23, 2023
Congratulations, @HKane! 👏 pic.twitter.com/vXoeRcQrRC
The skipper’s 54th goal came after Declan Rice opened the scoring during a superb first-half display that Jack Grealish should have added to in stoppage time.
Italy were a pale imitation of the side that beat England in the Euro 2020 final, but returned from the second half rejuvenated and quickly pulled one back through debutant Mateo Retegui.
Roberto Mancini’s vastly-improved Azzurri pinned the visitors back and Luke Shaw’s sending-off for two bookings in quick succession made for a nervy final 10 minutes at the dilapidated Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
But the visitors managed to hold out for victory in this hard-fought Group C opener, representing England’s first win away to Italy since 1961 as Southgate became just the third man to rack up 50 wins in charge.
There was a lot of the talk in the build-up about fan safety and the Football Association cancelled the ticket of a supporter who displayed an offensive, incendiary message on a St George’s Cross flag.
‘Diego’s in a box’ read the flag in reference to Maradona – the former Napoli star who died in 2020. Unfortunately, some visiting fans chanted the same at points during the first half.
More respect was shown to the late, great, Gianluca Vialli, with both sets of fans applauding as he was remembered in Italy’s first match since the former striker and coach died in January.
The hosts looked lively in the opening minutes but England quickly took control.
We miss you, Luca 🇮🇹 pic.twitter.com/1CMpwsOpqh— Italy ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (@Azzurri_En) March 23, 2023
Bukayo Saka wriggled through to get away the visitors’ first shot, before Jude Bellingham ended an impressive move by hitting a 20-yard strike that goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma tipped over.
Saka sent over the resulting corner and Kane saw a shot at the far post blocked, only for Rice to swivel and lash home the loose ball in the 13th minute.
Struggling Italy were relieved to see Kalvin Phillips fizz a 25-yard effort narrowly wide rather than pass to Kane, who let him know he should have passed instead.
The record-chasing England skipper would not have to wait long for a chance to surpass Rooney, though, and led the penalty appeals to referee Srdjan Jovanovic for handball against Giovanni Di Lorenzo.
Nothing was initially given but VAR Tomasz Kwiatkowski advised the Serbian official to check the pitchside monitor, leading to the award of a penalty.
Kane kept his cool and sent Donnarumma the wrong way, wheeling off in celebration after scoring his record 54th international goal.
That goal was no less than England deserved given a first-half display that should have brought a third in stoppage time, only for Grealish to inexplicably hit across the face of an open goal from a Kane cross.
Italy were whistled off at the break and responded with a vastly-improved second-half performance.
Harry Maguire’s attempt to make amends for seeing a pass cut out left him out of position, with Lorenzo Pellegrini eventually smartly playing the ball into Retegui to strike home and raise the roof.
Italy were making things uncomfortable for England, who were getting pushed deep and having to dig deeper than anyone could have imagined in the first half.
There was a flurry of bookings and tensions began to fray as the clock wound down, with Shaw sent off with 10 minutes remaining. The left-back was booked in the 78th minute for timewasting and handed another for a challenge on Retegui.
Kieran Trippier, Reece James and Conor Gallagher were introduced as England went to a back five and successfully strangled the life out of the match.