NAPLES, Italy — England held firm to an early lead to defeat Italy 2-1 in the opening match of Euro 2024 qualification on Thursday. It marked England's first win against the Azzurri in a competitive fixture since 1977.

Kane was incredible throughout the match as his movement and positioning overwhelmed the inexperienced Italian center back pairing of Francesco Acerbi and Rafael Tolói.

Every few minutes, Kane would drop into the midfield to act as the conduit for the English counterattack, allowing space for Jack Grealish or Bukayo Saka to make darting runs in behind the defense. His knack for shaking a defender in the box is unmatched, and in the 41st minute, all it took was a few steps off of Giovanni Di Lorenzo to create space and force the Napoli right back into a handball.

When referee Srdjan Jovanović awarded the penalty to England, the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium fell silent with anticipation — Shakespeare could not have written a more dramatic moment for the Spurs talisman to avenge his atrocious penalty miss against France in the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals.

Kane was stoic as he placed the ball 12 yards away from Gianluigi Donnarumma and exuberant as the ball screamed past the diving Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper.

The striker and captain is now England's all-time leading goalscorer, overtaking Wayne Rooney to establish a new mark — 54 goals — in the Three Lions record book.

England can't afford to lose focus

The Three Lions led 2-0 at half-time thanks to a clinical first-half performance from Southgate's starting XI. The decision to use Declan Rice as a sole pivot in the midfield was brilliant, allowing the Three Lions to switch the point of attack from side to side to take advantage of the space behind Italy's outside backs. England's back four left very little room for their opposition to maneuver and quickly shut down everything they faced from Italy's front three.

The game appeared to be done and dusted with Italy set to spend the remaining 45 minutes digging themselves out of a massive hole. When the second half began, however, everything went up in flames and England's midfield collapsed into disorder, allowing Marco Verratti to get on the ball and repeatedly threaten through balls for his teammates.

Southgate tried to inject some creativity by introducing Phil Foden in the 69th minute, but a double-yellow from Luke Shaw forced the Manchester City winger to give way for Kieran Trippier to preserve England's defensive shape. Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka also saw their nights end early for Reece James and Conor Gallagher, respectively, but it was the frustration on Foden's face as he trotted off the pitch that epitomized England's performance. 

When the Three Lions find themselves ahead, they cannot keep resorting to a defensive mindset change. By removing their attacking threats, they found themselves unable to create anything of note, and they fell victim to Italy's pressure in the later stages of the game.

Overall, this was a very strong performance from England, and three points on the road is exactly what the doctor would have ordered following a disappointing World Cup campaign. Due to the tight turnaround of this international break, their next challenge is only three days away: a match at Wembley against Mykhailo Mudryk and a tenacious Ukraine team that fell one game short of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

It's time for Italy to commit to its youth

In the days leading up to the match, coach Roberto Mancini groaned about a lack of options at center forward. It was precisely his "fall-back" option, a debut for the Argentine-born Mateo Retegui, that gave Italy a lifeline into this game with a goal in the 56th minute. But Retegui was far from the only young Italian that made an impact on Thursday.