LONDON: Italy return to the scene of their Euro 2020 triumph at Wembley on Tuesday to face an England side enhanced by the emergence of Jude Bellingham as one of the world’s best players.
Bellingham was an unused substitute when the Azzurri broke English hearts on home soil just over two years ago, winning a penalty shootout to extend the Three Lions’ wait for major tournament glory.
The 20-year-old Bellingham is now central to Gareth Southgate’s plans as England look to seal qualification for Euro 2024 with revenge over the Italians.
Bellingham announced himself on the international stage with a series of eye-catching performances at last year’s World Cup.
Despite more pain in Qatar as they exited in the quarter-finals to France, a frightening array of talent available to Southgate makes England among the favourites for next year’s Euro.
Bellingham is the star attraction after scoring 10 goals in his first 10 games for Real Madrid since a 103 million euro ($112 million) move from Borussia Dortmund.
The former Birmingham midfielder has earned comparisons with Madrid greats Alfredo di Stefano and Zinedine Zidane for his blistering start in the Spanish capital.
England full-back Kieran Trippier knows the scrutiny that comes with playing in Madrid from his time with Atletico and believes Bellingham can now be the difference in delivering a major tournament for his country.
“He can be the difference. At such a young age, with the maturity, the quality and the aggression he’s got, he’s frightening,” said Newcastle’s Trippier.
“It’s not a surprise at all, the standards that he’s set in Madrid.
“You can see he’s playing with freedom and the players around him are going to make him even better. The scary thing is he’s only 20 years old.”
Saka bounces back
Bellingham is also far from England’s only weapon as they aim to conquer Europe in Germany next year.
Bukayo Saka missed the decisive spot-kick in the Euro 2020 final but has bounced back to lead Arsenal’s renaissance and become undroppable at international level.
Jack Grealish, Declan Rice and Harry Kane have also all moved clubs for more than 100 million euros over the past two years.
Grealish, Phil Foden, Kyle Walker and John Stones were treble winners with Manchester City last season, while James Maddison has flourished since his summer move to Tottenham.
“We lost in the Euros final but the most important thing is we’re progressing and doing very well,” added Trippier.
“We’ve got goals from all over the pitch. Jude, Maddison, Bukayo, Phil are still young but can all change games in certain moments.”
Kane remains the most reliable source of goals and became his country’s all-time leading scorer as England won in Italy for the first time since 1961 in March.
That result and four points from a possible six against Ukraine have put Southgate’s men in pole position to qualify.
By contrast, Italy followed up their Euro success by failing to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup and still have work to do to reach Germany.
Defeat in London would leave Luciano Spalletti’s men level on points with Ukraine and facing a decisive showdown with the war-torn nation next month to qualify.
Spalletti has only been in charge since August after Roberto Mancini departed to take the riches on offer as boss of Saudi Arabia.
Newcastle’s Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo of Aston Villa were released from the squad after being investigated by criminal prosecutors for alleged gambling offences.