Are you not entertained? Was this not what you wanted? So much was right for England it is tempting, for all the talk of hard-nosed tournament football, to luxuriate just a little in the beauty of it all.
The staging was lovely, the night sky above the lip of the Stadio Olimpico a dusky thing down the feed from Rome. There were England fans in the ground, as there always will be England fans. From the start there was a delicious high-summer quality to the colours under that deep blue light.
Ukraine wore yellow. England wore white. And it took just three minutes for the night to start bending decisively England’s way. Best of all, it had to be Harry.
England’s opening goal was a thing of miniature beauty in its own right. It was conceived and made by Raheem Sterling, who had a wonderful game. But it was scored by Harry Kane, which carries its own significance.
Through the slow-burn of those four straight wins there has been this one note of dissonance. England tournament teams and centre forwards: this is a thing, a trope, a part of the folk memory of all this. Well, he’s back, baby, he’s back.
From the opening seconds Kane was surrounded by four yellow shirts, a common sight at these Euros. Outside him Jadon Sancho stayed wide, exchanging passes with Kyle Walker, such a reassuring presence on the same flank, like having a destroyer ship at your back, bristling with speed, sirens ablaze, guns primed.
It was Sterling who made the first step between those rigid lines, waggling his way inside on the left, head up, tracking the movement ahead of him, an idea starting to form. The beauty of Sterling’s pass, when it came, was the way he juggled it with everything else in his eyeline: threats, movements, obstacles stacking up like circling planes.
His first little jink took him past Oleksandr Karavaev. Sterling had to stretch to rearrange his feet,then take a half-touch past Mykola Shaparenko, who went with his arm to bounce him away – but found, like many others before, that bouncing Sterling isn’t as easy as you might hope.
Shaparenko came snapping back and Sterling hopped away again, running out of time and space. But it was still there, that idea. And the pass was perfection, cutting diagonally through the four-square yellow shirts like the bishop on a chess board.
Kane had sensed something as Sterling set off, 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, Sterling making all those instant calculations of distance and force and sending the ball at just the right speed through the press of bodies. And suddenly Kane was all alone and veering in on goal, the game falling apart around him.
The ball was slightly away from him but Kane covered the ground with a lunge, lifting it over the flailing arm of Georgiy Bushchan and billowing the back of those beautifully styled square white nets. Kane ran away to the far side leaping to grab the air in his arms, a man who gets not just affirmation, vibes, pleasure from scoring, but a kind of full body rush.
It was an interesting England goal too, the kind that comes from fluent, broken play, the kind Kane hasn’t scored a lot of recently for his country. There was something very sweet about how overcome Kane was at the end of the Germany game. Until then he had cut a morose, sclerotic figure, moving about on the fringes like a sad, kindly, drooping lion. Players often lose form. But they rarely look this drained.
Here, though, something had begin to flow in Kane: confidence, joy, or just a sense of his own powers. Five minutes after half-time he got his second and England’s third to follow Harry Maguire’s thrilling, neck-wrenching, forehead-thunking header. Luke Shaw’s cross was just right. Once again Kane stopped moving, shrunk away from goal to find the space, and headed it down and under the goalkeeper
Jordan Henderson made it 4-0 to England soon after. The white shirts continued to swirl. And yes, it was only Ukraine. But Ukraine are Euro 2020 quarter-finalists, and they were run off the park here by an England team that becomes a powerful attacking machine when Kane plays this way.
In 72 minutes on the pitch he had four shots, won three headers, took 33 touches, intercepted, tackled and even dribbled. There was one wonderful, dipping, slashing shot – and Kane has a fearsome shot that he should deploy at every glimpse of daylight. Mainly he looked happy, a man feeling the hard edges of his own talent once again. He’s up to 37 England goals now in 59 games, and nine in tournaments. That train is off and running.
Denmark will be tough, high-craft opponents at Wembley. But England can face the game in full working order, without anything held in reserve, and with a sense now of breathing out, of gears being found, talent being expressed. They may or may not be good enough. But we will at least find out either way.