England booked their place at Euro 2024 as Harry Kane’s double inspired an impressive fightback to beat holders Italy 3-1 at Wembley on Tuesday.
Needing a point to be certain of qualifying for next year’s tournament in Germany, Gareth Southgate’s side fell behind to Gianluca Scamacca’s early goal.
But, fuelled by a superb display from Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham, England hit back to equalise before the break through Kane’s penalty.
Bellingham had won the spot-kick with a typically thrusting run and the 20-year-old prodigy was also the catalyst for Marcus Rashford’s decisive strike after the interval.
Underlining his own importance to the England cause, Kane struck again in the closing stages to give the skipper his 61st goal for the Three Lions.
With two group games still to play, unbeaten England, winners of five of their six qualifiers, are guaranteed to finish top of Group C.
“This was the toughest qualifying group with the seedings. We’ve performed really well,” Southgate said.
“The players are incredible to work with, so hungry, so eager to learn, so together.
“You saw that in the performance. It was relentless. What was really pleasing was that when we went behind we stayed calm.”
Following their failure to qualify for last year’s World Cup, Italy face a tense battle to secure the second automatic qualification place in the group.
Luciano Spalletti’s third-placed team are three points behind Ukraine.
Assured of a play-off place, Italy host North Macedonia before travelling to Ukraine in their remaining matches.
“It’s disappointing. We were a bit casual at times. Occasionally our attitude was found wanting,” Spalletti said.
“This is what European football is about at this level. It asks you serious questions.”
England have suffered just one defeat in their last 63 Euro and World Cup qualifiers, but reaching major tournaments hasn’t been the issue in the Southgate era.
It is his ability to end England’s wait for a first international men’s trophy since the 1966 World Cup that will define Southgate’s reign.
Beaten on penalties by Italy in the European Championship final at Wembley two years ago, England have gained a measure of revenge by defeating the Italians twice in the group.
Southgate believes his team are a more complete side than the one that lost the Euro final.
And with stars like Kane and Bellingham at his disposal, there can be no excuses if they fail to bring home the silverware from Germany.
England showed they have the character for the big occasion by recovering from the collective collapse that allowed Italy to seize the lead in the 15th minute.
Declan Rice missed a key tackle and Giovanni Di Lorenzo raced into the England area ahead of the out of position Kieran Trippier.
Di Lorenzo whipped over a low cross that eluded Harry Maguire at the near post, rolling perfectly for Scamacca to fire into roof of the net from close range for his first international goal in his 13th appearance.
In such sublime form for Real this season, it was no surprise that Bellingham played a major role in hauling England level in the 32nd minute.
Catching Italy with their guard down, Bellingham accelerated through on goal before Di Lorenzo’s tackle sent the midfielder sprawling.
Di Lorenzo claimed he got a foot on the ball but, after a lengthy VAR check, the penalty was awarded and Kane stepped up to send Gianluigi Donnarumma the wrong way for his 60th England goal.
England struck again in the 57th minute as Bellingham tracked back to win possession with a sliding tackle before surging forward from the halfway line.
Rather than go it alone, Bellingham unselfishly guided a pass out to Rashford, who punished woeful Italy defending as he advanced unchecked into the area before planting a clinical strike past the exposed Donnarumma.
Kane killed off Italy in the 77th minute as the Bayern Munich striker nicked the ball off the toe of Giorgio Scalvini before delivering a cool finish that had England packing their bags for Germany.
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