Once again England make qualifying for a major tournament look easy.
Gareth Southgate’s side came from a goal down to beat Italy 3-1 on Tuesday and secure their place at Euro 2024 in Germany with two games to spare.
They are unbeaten so far in qualifiers, and have only lost one such game in 24 years – when they were beaten 2-1 by Czech Republic in 2019.
On paper, it was not an easy group for England. They were drawn with the defending European champions Italy as well as Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta, but in the end they made it look easy with five wins, one draw and no losses.
Despite that, Southgate believes his side are still capable of much more.
“We need to make sure we are one of the top seeds next month,” he said. “We need to win our next two games. We want to be in control of that.
“We need to keep building. There is more to come from this team. This was the toughest qualifying group, with the seedings.
“People have criticised us for not beating the top teams enough. But we have performed really well.”
Italy, of course, beat England at Wembley to win Euro 2020 but the Three Lions have gone some way to avenging that loss with wins home and away against them in this qualifying campaign.
They fell behind to a goal by former West Ham United striker Gianluca Scamacca after 15 minutes but Harry Kane equalised from the penalty spot before half-time.
England then produced a superb second-half display with further goals from Marcus Rashford and Kane sealing the win.
“I feel like sometimes we make qualifying look easy, so credit to the boys because it’s not,” Kane told Channel 4.
“We’ve had one of the toughest groups, you’ve seen over recent years some big nations not going to major tournaments, so to do it [qualify] with two games to spare just shows the path we are on.”
Key to England’s revival against Italy was once again Jude Bellingham.
The Real Madrid forward is now a key player for club and country and this was yet another superb display by the 20-year-old.
He won the penalty for Kane’s equaliser before setting up Rashford with a wonderful display of determination and skill.
His team-mates were once again full of praise for his contribution, with Kalvin Phillips expressing disbelief at how he seems to “get better and better”, while Rashford described him as an “unbelievable” player.
“With the big transfer [to Real Madrid] the fact is I have to deliver, whether it is a goal or assist or a match-winning performance,” Bellingham said.
“This is the club I want to be at for the next 10-15 years of my life. I am loving it there.”
Asked if this summer’s move to Real, where he has scored 10 goals in 10 games, has improved him, Bellingham added: “100%. When you are around those mentalities and quality of players every day… it takes you to a new level mentally, physically and technically.”
Key to England’s continued impressive form is the strength in depth they possess.
A fringe team ground out a 1-0 victory against Australia in a friendly last Friday, while Manchester City midfielder Phillips was able to come in and contribute in a winning performance against Italy despite not playing many minutes at club level this season.
But with qualification now wrapped up, Phillips has his eye on getting more game time for Manchester City to ensure he is ready when next summer’s Euros come round. “As a football player you always want to be playing,” he said.
“I want to be playing as much as possible but I haven’t done that for a year and a half. I always try and make sure I am ready for whatever comes.”I want minutes, I want to go the Euros. We will see what happens.”
Another player to come in and impress was Phil Foden, who came into the starting XI with Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka currently injured.”Bukayo [Saka] is a quality player, every time he pulls on the England shirt he puts in a 7/10 at least every time,” said Foden.
“If I’m not starting I want to try and come on and change the game, I’m here to help the team as best as I can.”It’s exciting because it shows we still have players to come back into the side and help us push forwards. It just shows the depth in quality that the squad has.”