It was a record-breaking night for Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane as qualifying for the European Championship in 2024 got underway on Thursday.
Already the leading scorer in men’s international football, the 38-year-old Ronaldo now has more international appearances than any other male player after racking up No. 197 in Portugal’s 4-0 win over Liechtenstein.
The former Real Madrid and Manchester United striker marked the occasion by converting a penalty and adding another second-half goal — a powerful free kick from the edge of the area — to move onto 120 in international matches.
Kane, meanwhile, became England’s outright leading scorer of all time by netting a first-half penalty in a 2-1 win at Italy. It lifted Kane to 54 goals for his country, one more than Wayne Rooney.
Qualifying for Euro 2024, which will take place in Germany, started three months after the World Cup finished.
Call it belated revenge for England.
The meeting with Italy in Naples was a repeat of the Euro 2020 final won by the Azzurri at Wembley Stadium. The teams have met since then — twice, in fact, with Italy gaining a win and a draw in Nations League qualifying last year.
This time, England held on after first-half goals by Declan Rice and Kane, who tucked away a spot kick awarded following a VAR review after it was determined that Italy defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo touched the ball with his hand while attempting to prevent Kane from reaching a corner.
Kane had missed his last penalty attempt for his country, late in the 2-1 loss to France in the World Cup quarterfinals last year.
“It had to be a penalty, of course,” a smiling Kane said of his record goal.
Argentina-born forward Mateo Retegui, who has Italian citizenship through his maternal grandmother, pulled a goal back on his debut and England played with 10 men from the 80th after left back Luke Shaw collected two yellow cards in the space of 54 seconds.
Italy lost to England in a competitive match for the first time since a World Cup qualifier at Wembley back in 1977.
It was a disappointing way for the Azzurri to start their latest qualifying campaign for a major tournament, having failed to get into the last two World Cups.
“We might be starting with an uphill struggle this time,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said, “but let’s hope we end it better.”
North Macedonia beat Malta 2-1 in the other match in Group C, which also contains Ukraine.
EASY FOR PORTUGAL
Roberto Martinez enjoyed a comfortable start to his tenure as Portugal coach after handing Ronaldo a start against Liechtenstein.
The striker was left out of Portugal’s knockout-stage matches at the World Cup but was selected up front alongside Joao Felix — and repaid the faith shown in him by Martinez, who left his role as Belgium after the tournament in Qatar.
Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva scored before Ronaldo’s double in Lisbon.
“It’s a new cycle,” Martinez said. “It is very important that a player shows commitment and that he can use his experience. Cristiano has that: A lot of experience and a lot of commitment to the national team.”
Also in Group J, Bosnia-Herzegovina beat Iceland 3-0, while Slovakia and Luxembourg drew 0-0.
POIGNANT AT PARKEN
There was a sense of poignancy when Denmark and Finland met for their opening Group H qualifier at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen.
The last time the teams met was at Euro 2020 and it was the game — and same venue — when Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen collapsed with cardiac arrest.
Nearly two years later, Denmark won 3-1 thanks to a hat trick from striker Rasmus Hojlund in his first start for his country.
Slovenia beat Kazakhstan 2-1 and Northern Ireland defeated San Marino 2-0.
For the first time since the country’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia played a football match against a nation from outside the borders of the old Soviet Union.
A 1-1 draw with Iran in Tehran was played in front of 78,000 spectators and comes after months of Russia seeking closer ties with the Asian Football Confederation. Russia is banned by UEFA from competing in qualifying for Euro 2024.
Both goals came from the penalty spot. Iran striker Mehdi Taremi canceled out the opener by Anton Miranchuk, one of those selected in an entirely Russia-based squad.
Russia has previously played Kyrgyzstan, winning 2-1, along with 0-0s against Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.