A consummate 4-0 thrashing of Lithuania eased England back into international competition after the traditionally long spell away devoted entirely to the pursuit club football. A cohesive performance, albeit against relatively poor opposition, was welcomed.
So too was the debut and inevitably corresponding debut goal from Harry Kane. Now England turn their minds to Italy on Tuesday; and a team that bears little in common to those disposed of at Wembley on Friday night.
The Italians have a strong recent history against the English on the football field. At Euro 2012 it was they that dominated England to an almost mocking extent and, having failed to break them down in normal or extra time, subsequently eliminated them on penalties.
Two years on and with far greater preparation Roy Hodgson’s men still lost, this time 2-1, before departing alongside the Azzurri at the World Cup group stages in Brazil. Even though there are no points on the line, reminders of the aforementioned failings take on a portentous aura for England ahead of the fixture.
With Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling out Hodgson will once again be forced to consider starting Kane up front, something he was; as some media would have it, obliged to do against Lithuania.
From the very beginning of that game the absence of Kane was a potential stick with which to batter Hodgson with. Had the performance and scoreline not been so comfortable the pressure to start Kane would only be of greater intensity ahead of Tuesday night.
Hodgson must be praised for his handling of the whole situation. Even if he didn’t want or need it, the Lithuania display was a re-affirmation of his decision making. Some masked his sticking with Welbeck as a decision borne of loyalty, but truth be told it was a tactical call.
The Arsenal frontman’s direct running and under-rated savvy brings more to England’s attack; Hodgson’s 4-3-3 / 4-3-1-2 wouldn’t be the same without it. Nonetheless those traits, as well as Sterling’s pace, will be missing against Italy.
Given Italian coach Antonio Conte’s predisposition for setting up in a 5-3-2, it can be expected that his chosen wing-backs; perhaps Matteo Darmian on the right and Luca Antonelli down the left, will have license to attack the flanks.
It is crucial that England set up with this in mind, especially given what happened last summer, when Darmian’s forward raids gave Leighton Baines nightmares down England’s over-exposed left side.
Ryan Bertrand has been called up to replace the injured Baines and he would be a better call than Kieran Gibbs for the left-back slot.
He and Nathaniel Clyne have been in exceptional form this season and both have shown the qualities associated with good modern full-backs; defensive solidity coupled with attacking gusto and, should Hodgson decide to retain roughly the same shape that has served him well throughout the Euro 2016 qualifiers thus far, they will be given extra cover by Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph in midfield.
Further on down the flanks the absence of Sterling and Welbeck gives Hodgson the chance to utilise the explosive pace of Theo Walcott and big-game mentality of Andros Townsend. Neither are currently regulars at club level, but their specialities could be of genuine value against the Italians.
Out wide, their verve could be crucial if England are to exploit the spaces in behind the Italy full-back pairing, draw the outer two of their three centre-backs wide and create space centrally.
The key question is: who should be the one to play in that central area? If England are to line up as suggested; with the working trio of Carrick, Henderson and Delph in midfield and Townsend and Walcott in advanced wide areas, the battle for the central forward role could well be a pick‘em between Rooney and Kane. And herein lies the dilemma for Hodgson.
Kane is the burgeoning star of English football. Were he a heavyweight boxer in a past life he would have been one of America’s great white hopes. A composed finisher with surprisingly nimble feet for his size, his benchwarming against Lithuania led to speculation that he was being saved for Italy.
But unless Hodgson changes the formation or budges Rooney out wide or into central midfield, he’s going to have to choose between his captain and the latest sensation.
Rooney would be a better selection. His superior versatility, technique and dribbling could be used to great effect to pull apart the Italian central defence.
Playing in a free role, he could alternate between the top of a midfield diamond and as an out and out centre-forward depending on the circumstances, with Townsend and Walcott as inverted wingers either side of him.
Playing with Kane means less movement and, against defenders as experienced and high-calibre as Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, that means less threat.
As much as he will be encouraged to bend, Roy Hodgson would be well advised to not simply give in to media pressure. Harry Kane has a great future at international level, but there is no rush.
Right now England have a way of playing that seems to work and sacrificing an effective team for the new star, however bright he may be, is a gamble.