Even as Gareth Southgate’s England team booked their trip to Germany next summer, one thought kept coming to mind: if Jude Bellingham is healthy, they could win the European championship.
In the old days, England would show up to big events full of jingoistic tub-thumping with very little to back up our country’s empty boasts.
Not right now. Not when they have access to what might be the best player in the world—a 20-year-old superstar who runs the Bernabeu for Real Madrid and has the power to turn around high-level football matches by himself.
In a 3-1 win, England’s captain Harry Kane scored two goals and Marcus Rashford scored the game-winning goal. This was England’s second win over the defending European winners in this qualifying campaign.
But after Italy scored the first goal and took the lead through Gianluca Scamacca, Bellingham took the game by the horns and made sure England won their seventh game in a row and their eighth game in a row without losing since the World Cup.
Bellingham set up Rashford’s goal with a big hit, a sexy dummy, and a smart pass.
Then the young, tall British player turned up the style. He often went past a group of tough Italian midfielders and defenders, leaving them stumbling.
He’s such a good player. As you watched him at Hampden Park last month, you wondered if you had ever seen an England football player who was so good all the time.
Here, Southgate had Kane drop deep and ping passes from deep to make room for Bellingham in the center-forward path. It was a smart move that sometimes left the Italians confused.
Truth be told, these Euros qualifying groups don’t pose much of a threat any longer. With Steve McClaren in charge, England might even make it to the finals.
But this season has been great, especially since they beat Italy twice. It was a good reason for Southgate to stay on after the World Cup.
That choice must have been affected by Bellingham’s growing talent; at times in Qatar, he looked like he was about to become great.
After all the fuss about Jordan Henderson being booed during Friday’s strangely staged and quickly forgotten friendly against Australia, at least we had a real game here.
It was quiet, which was different from the last time Italy played here in the 2021 Euros Final. It was great that there was no one on Wembley Way with a lit fireworks device stuck up their behind.
The first few minutes of the game were pretty exciting for England. Kyle Walker looked dangerous on the right wing, and Marcus Rashford nearly scored a long-range free kick.
So they were shocked when Italy scored the first goal 15 minutes in.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo sent a quick cross to the far post, but Davide Frattesi missed it, and Scamacca smashed it into the roof of the net from close range.
England’s defense was so lazy that it was almost still, and they played really badly for the next ten minutes or so.
All of a sudden, Kane felt like he had to play holding middle, where he missed a few tackles as Italy looked like they were going to double their lead. After a quick rat-a-tat pass, Scamacca hit the goal but it was just wide.
The air felt like a funeral. It seemed impossible that 90,000 people out for the night could be so quiet.
But then England’s two best players—their star exiles—worked together to get through the Italian defense.
Bellingham ran too fast and got in the way of Di Lorenzo, who caught him with a sliding block. Kane got away with a clever pass.
For such a clear and obvious foul, VAR took way too long to check it, but Kane wasn’t phased and hit his trademark shot into the corner, with Gianluigi Donnarumma throwing himself the other way.
Kane scored England’s seventh goal in as many games since missing a penalty at the World Cup.
Bellingham began cheering the crowd enthusiastically to get them excited.
When Italy came here before, it was all about the hooligans. In this case, it was the library part.
Rashford’s angled shot was blocked by Donnarumma, but in extra time in the first half, Tottenham left-back Destiny Udogie hit John Stones and Pickford made a great save to keep the game alive.
But after the break, Udogie should have been given a penalty kick when he body-checked Phil Foden, but referee Clement Turpin didn’t see it.
Bellingham was starting to make a big difference. He won a free kick with a fast run right before setting up England’s second goal.
The Birmingham player won a hard tackle on Nicola Barrella just outside the England box, took Foden’s pass, and then dummied an opponent in the middle of the field before setting Rashford free.
The United player charged at the Italian defense, cut inside and hit Donnarumma with a hard shot.
The goal was so clear that it woke up this sleepy crowd for a short time. Now Bellingham was really into it. He did a drag-back and a back-heeled pass for Kane near the corner flag that made it look like he had been studying matadors in Spain.
English scored their third goal with a hopeful punt from Walker, a bad shot from Alessandro Bastoni, and a thud from Kane