Aare you not entertained? Wasn’t that what you wanted? So much was good for England that it is tempting, despite all the talk of hard-nosed tournament football, to bask a bit in the beauty of it all.
The setting was lovely, the night sky above the lip of the Stadio Olimpico a dark thing at the bottom of Rome’s diet. There were English fans on the pitch, as there will always be English fans. From the start there was a delightful summer quality in the colors under this deep blue light.
Ukraine wore yellow. England wore white. And it only took three minutes for the night to begin to shift decisively towards England. Better yet, it had to be Harry.
England’s first goal was a thing of miniature beauty in its own right. It was designed and manufactured by Raheem Sterling, who had a wonderful game. But he was marked by Harry Kane, which has its own meaning.
Thanks to the slowness of those four straight wins, there was that one note of dissonance. England tournament teams and center forwards: it’s a thing, a trope, a popular memory part of it all. Well he’s back, baby, he’s back.
From the first seconds, Kane was surrounded by four yellow jerseys, a common sight at these Euros. Apart from him, Jadon Sancho stayed wide, exchanging passes with Kyle Walker, a presence so reassuring on the same flank, like having a destroyer at his back, bristling with speed, sirens on fire, cannons primed.
It was Sterling who took the first step between those rigid lines, working his way in to the left, head held high, following the movement in front of him, an idea starting to form. The beauty of Sterling’s pass, when it arrived, was the way he juggled it with everything else in his eye: threats, movements, obstacles piling up like spinning planes.
His first flick made him pass Oleksandr Karavaev. Sterling had to stretch to rearrange her feet, then half pass Mykola Shaparenko, who went with her arm to bounce him – but found, like many others before, that bouncing Sterling isn’t as easy as you might hope.
Shaparenko stepped back and Sterling jumped again, running out of time and space. But it was still there, that idea. And the pass was perfect, cutting the yellow shirts to four squares diagonally like the bishop on a chessboard.
Kane had sensed something as Sterling left, stopping and letting the defenders leave his space, reading the angle of his teammate’s run. But the real beauty was the weight of the pass, with Sterling doing all those instant distance and force calculations and sending the ball at the right speed through body pressure. And suddenly, Kane was all alone and headed for the goal, the game crumbling around him.
The ball was slightly away from him but Kane covered the floor with a slit, lifting it above Georgiy Bushchan’s flapping arm and inflating the back of those beautifully styled square white nets. Kane fled to the other side jumping to grab the air in his arms, a man who not only gets assertiveness, vibes, pleasure in scoring, but a kind of rush for everything. body.
It was also an interesting goal for England, the kind that comes from a fluid and broken game, the kind that Kane hasn’t scored much recently for his country. There was something very sweet about the way Kane was defeated at the end of the game against Germany. Until then he had carved out a gloomy, sclerotic figure, moving across the fringes like a sad, benevolent, stooping lion. Players often lose shape. But they rarely look so drained.
Here, however, something had started to flow into Kane: confidence, joy, or just a sense of his own powers. Five minutes into halftime he got his second and England third to follow Harry Maguire’s throbbing and heartbreaking header. Luke Shaw’s cross was right. Once again, Kane stopped moving, walked away from the goal to find space and directed it down and under the goalie
Jordan Henderson scored 4-0 against England soon after. The white shirts continued to swirl. And yes, there was only Ukraine. But Ukraine are Euro 2020 quarter-finalists, and they’ve been kicked out of the park here by an England side who become a powerful attacking machine when Kane plays that way.
In 72 minutes on the field, he made four shots, won three heads, took 33 touches, intercepted, tackled and even dribbled. There was a magnificent shot, plunging and sharp – and Kane has a formidable shot he should deploy with every glimpse of the day. He mostly looked happy, a man feeling the hard edges of his own talent again. He now has 37 goals in England in 59 games and nine in tournaments. This train is moving.
Denmark will be tough and high-level opponents at Wembley. But England can face the game in perfect working order, with nothing in reserve, and with the feeling now of expiring, of finding cogs, of expressing themselves. They may or may not be good enough. But at least we’ll find out anyway.