International Blues: England trio and Joao Felix taste winning start to qualifiers
From the official Chelsea FC website:
Joao Felix, Reece James, Conor Gallagher and Ben Chilwell were all on winning sides on matchday one of the EURO 2024 qualifying round.
England faced Italy in Naples for a rerun of the Euro 2020 final, in which the Italians won on penalties, whereas Joao Felix’s Portugal faced Liechtenstein.
The Three Lions, who had not won in Italy since 1961, started by far the better side and took a deserved lead thanks to West Ham United’s Declan Rice in the 13th minute.
Bukayo Saka curled in an inviting corner and found captain Harry Kane at the back post. Rice made no mistake after the ball deflected his way from Kane, drilling it through a wall of bodies for England’s opener.
Harry Kane then doubled the away side’s advantage. It was his 54th goal for his nation, a record breaking tally, taking him one ahead of Wayne Rooney (53) in England’s all-time goalscoring chart.
Gareth Southgate’s side took a well-earned cushion into the break but, in truth, the game switched momentum in the second half. England did not muster an attempt at goal in the second period but did hold on.
It had been 103 days since England’s exit from the Qatar World Cup at the hands of France and they did seemingly put those woes behind them in Naples, producing a resilient display.
Italy could only improve once they had been spoken to by Roberto Mancini and that is exactly what happened, as they looked to retain their unbeaten run in qualifying matches to 41 games.
The Argentine first division’s top scorer, Mateo Retegui, scored his first Italy goal on his first senior cap as the hosts pulled one back just 11 minutes after the restart.
The game heated up in the second half with numerous cautions being shown. The referee sent Manchester United’s Luke Shaw off for two yellow card offences within 54 seconds of each other. First for time-wasting and then a late challenge.
That caused Southgate to look to his bench and thus turn to Chelsea duo Reece James and Conor Gallagher in the 82nd minute.
It took Conor around 20 seconds to win a free-kick for his nation, at a time when the Three Lions became under increasing pressure. His tenacity and workrate was on show in Naples as the visitors held on, in a game where Ben Chilwell was an unused substitute.
England regular Mason Mount withdrew from Gareth Southgate’s squad on Monday due to a pubic bone injury.
Joao Felix, who scored his first goal at Stamford Bridge in the final game before the international break, faced off with Liechtenstein in Lisbon.
He started in a front two alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, and was one of four players to have a shot on target for the hosts in the opening 45 minutes. Portugal, now managed by ex-Everton manager Roberto Martinez, hit 12 shots inside the first half alone despite taking an early lead. That statistic hit a humongous 35 by the final whistle.
Joao was withdrawn in the 66th minute for AC Milan’s Rafael Leao, as goals from Bernardo Silva and Ronaldo ensured the hosts cruised to a 4-0 victory.
Portugal are in Group J alongside Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Slovakia and play Luxembourg on Sunday, whereas England host Ukraine at Wembley.
Earlier on in the day, Bryan Fiabema featured for Norway Under-20s against Italy. The forward was a used substitute in the 2-2 draw, after the Norwegians came from behind to secure a point in the Under-20 Elite League.
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