Joe Cole hailed Arsenal and Chelsea target Declan Rice as the ‘best player on the pitch by a mile’ after England beat Italy in their opening qualifying match.
West Ham midfielder Rice poked home England’s opener on 13 minutes in Naples before Harry Kane doubled the visitors’ lead with a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Kane’s goal saw the Tottenham striker become .
England were the dominant team in the first half but the tide started to turn after the break and Italy were back in the game when Mateo Retegui rifled past Jordan Pickford.
Italy sensed an opportunity to snatch a point when Luke Shaw was sent off for two yellow cards in the space of two minutes, but England .
Cole described it as a ‘significant win’ for a Three Lions side who suffered more disappointment in the World Cup before Christmas, when they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual runners-up France.
The ex-England midfielder singled out Rice for praise and said the West Ham star was ‘outstanding from start to finish’.
Rice is expected to leave the Hammers at the end of the season and has .
‘Declan Rice was the best player on the pitch by a mile,’ Cole said on Channel 4. ‘It was terrible defending for the goal, but he’s alive to it.
‘If it’s a centre-forward we’re talking about instinct. He was outstanding from start to finish.
‘But I’ve got to say I’m baffled by Italy’s defending. This is a country known for their defending but it was unacceptable from Italy in that first half.
‘Most of the defenders just switch off. But Rice deserves credit because it takes it like a centre-forward, he did really well there.’
On the victory – which was England’s 50th under Gareth Southgate – Cole added: ‘It’s a significant win. When you win like that it means more. There’s nothing better than this feeling.’
England captain Kane, meanwhile, praised the Three Lions’ performance in Naples and said becoming the country’s record goalscorer was ‘special’.
‘It is the first time England have won in Italy for a long, long time,’ the Spurs striker said. ‘To be a part of that is amazing.
‘I just want to say a big thanks to all my team-mates, the staff, the fans, my family back home and my wife. Just a really special night for me and a night I will never forget. I’m just really proud.
‘Thank you to everyone in here and everyone who has made this dream a reality.’
England continue their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign on Sunday when they welcome Ukraine to Wembley.
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