England wrapped up qualification for Euro 2024 with two matches to spare as Harry Kane’s brace helped Gareth Southgate’s side secure a 3-1 comeback win against Italy.
Having kicked off Group C with an impressive victory in Naples, it has long been a case of when rather than if the unbeaten Euro 2020 runners-up would seal their spot in Germany.
Italy stood in their way of early progress as these nations met at Wembley for the first time since they pipped Southgate’s men to European Championship glory on penalties.
England have come a long way in the intervening 27 months and emphatically bounced back from former West Ham striker Gianluca Scamacca’s early gut punch under the arch.
Kane struck from the spot after Giovanni Di Lorenzo brought down brilliant Jude Bellingham in the box, putting the hosts on course for the point they needed to go through.
But England wanted more and returned from the break with the bit between their teeth, with Real Madrid star Bellingham beginning a brilliant counter-attack that ended with him playing in Marcus Rashford to rifle home.
It will have been a special moment given the England forward missed one of the penalties against Italy and Kane added late gloss as the skipper looks forward to leading the national team to next year’s Euros.
Southgate made 11 alterations from Friday’s 1-0 friendly win against Australia on a night that began with a disrupted minute’s silence for those killed from UEFA member nations Israel and Sweden.
England began on the front foot and dominated early possession, with Rashford hitting a 30-yard free-kick over as they looked to strike the first blow.
Gianluigi Donnarumma – one of just three survivors from Italy’s Euro 2020 final line-up – soon kept his cool under pressure from Kane, inadvertently starting a move that ended with a 15th-minute opener.
Destiny Udogie roared down the left before playing on to Stephan El Shaarawy, whose cross-field ball found Domenico Berardi despite a deflection.
The Italy forward slipped in underlapping Di Lorenzo to hit a fizzing low cross that Davide Frattesi missed, only for Scamacca to fire into the roof of the net from six yards.
England appeared to go into their shells and Scamacca whistled wide from the edge of the box as Luciano Spalletti’s revitalised Azzurri pushed for a quickfire second.
The Wembley atmosphere was even worse than against Australia and Bellingham tried to whip up the crowd after seeing a headed effort stopped before a poor Italy challenge on him soon improved the mood.
Di Lorenzo caught Bellingham as he attempted to stop the England midfielder in the box, leading referee Clement Turpin to point to the spot.
The VAR pored over the replays during a lengthy delay that did not disturb Kane, who sent Donnarumma the wrong way with a well-struck penalty.
England appealed for another spot-kick shortly after, but those appeals were waved away and an Italy break was just halted in time.
Rashford saw a drilled strike denied by Donnarumma and Udogie cut away to get away a low shot saved smartly by Jordan Pickford as an even half came to an end.
England returned from the break with a renewed pep in their step and a superb team move led Wembley to erupt.
Bellingham tackled Nicolo Barella on the edge of England’s box and burst forwards, collecting a pass from Phil Foden after fine footwork and coolly taking it beyond an Italian defender.
The 20-year-old smartly turned left to Rashford, who cut inside and surprised Donnarumma with a low, lasered 57th-minute finish which provided a fitting end to a fine move.
Scamacca was denied as Italy attempted to draw level, with play halted after rusty Kalvin Phillips’ poor tackle on Barella.
The already booked midfielder was fortunate not to pick up a second yellow card and was swiftly replaced by Jordan Henderson, who was largely cheered but booed again by some.
England looked most likely to score the next goal as Foden and Rashford continued to threaten, with Kane eventually striking the killer blow.
The Bayern Munich striker nicked the ball off the toe of Giorgio Scalvini and held off Alessandro Bastoni before beating Donnarumma.
Published: by Radio NewsHub