Football: Kane makes history as England squeeze past Italy in Euro opener

Striker Harry Kane applauds at the end of England's Euro 2024 qualifier against Italy PHOTO: AFP

NAPLES – Gareth Southgate praised Harry Kane’s mental strength, after the striker broke England’s all-time goals record with the crucial strike in Thursday’s 2-1 Euro 2024 qualifying win over Italy.

The Three Lions captain stroked home his 54th international strike from the penalty spot to move ahead of Wayne Rooney and help England to a Group C win in Naples over the European champions.

Kane, 29, had been level with Rooney after missing a penalty in England’s quarter-final loss to France at the Qatar World Cup.

“To break the record in the manner he did, given the recent history, was an indication of his strength of character. I couldn’t be happier for him,” Southgate said.

“To do it as quick as he has as well, he still has a lot of his career to go, is an incredible achievement.

“The players gave him a brilliant reception afterwards and I think that was a response to the record and what he’s had to recover from.”

The Tottenham Hotspur striker had just three England goals when Rooney broke Bobby Charlton’s long-standing record of 49 in a 2-0 victory over Switzerland in a Euro qualifier in 2015.

Rooney went on to score 53 goals and he was one of the first to congratulate Kane on Thursday.

“Congratulations to Harry Kane on becoming England’s all-time leading goalscorer. I knew it wouldn’t take long but that was quick. Great man, unbelievable goalscorer and an England legend. Congrats Harry!” he tweeted.

Kane was understandably thrilled with his achievement, saying: “It means everything. I was so excited to put the England shirt on, get back out here and get the campaign started for next year’s Euros.

“It had to be a penalty, and once it hit the back of the net, huge emotion. A magical moment. To score and win is so special.” 

Declan Rice opened the scoring in the 13th minute and Kane’s goal came towards the end of an impressive first-half performance, which would have put the game to bed had Jack Grealish not missed a glaring chance from close range.

In the end, England had to hold out as Italy pulled a goal back through debutant Mateo Retegui and Luke Shaw was sent off in the 80th minute following two quick-fire yellow cards.

“We showed two sides without a doubt. We had great control from the back in the first half... frankly we should have had the game buried, it should have been 3-0 at half-time,” added Southgate, whose team host Ukraine on Sunday.

“We conceded a really poor goal, several errors in the lead up to it. In the end, we had to grind and dig in away from home, which is hugely important... but equally we’d prefer more of the first half than second.”

The match was the first for Italy since the death of Gianluca Vialli and there was a moving pre-match tribute to the former Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea forward, who was a key part of coach Roberto Mancini’s staff.

Vialli, who died in January at age 58 following a long battle with pancreatic cancer, was Mancini’s best friend and long-time strike partner in their playing days at Sampdoria in the 1980s and 1990s.

The big screen showed images of Vialli and Mancini celebrating Italy’s Euro win while the pitchside hoardings bore the message “Ciao Luca”.

On the game, Mancini was encouraged by what he saw in the Azzurri’s second-half performance. “Second half we were great. We saw the real team there which pressed and didn’t let them breathe,” he said.

“I saw a proper team out there in the second half and that bodes well for the future.”

Mancini also said that Southgate’s side were superior in set pieces, which helped England to secure their first win on Italian soil for 62 years. “We allowed the first (goal) I think due to a distraction, then the penalty was also from a corner. I think we deserved to score at least another goal after the break,” he said.

Italy will travel to Malta for their next Euro qualifier on Sunday. AFP, REUTERS

England’s Declan Rice scores their first goal. PHOTO: REUTERS

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