Declan Rice silenced his critics with a magnificent performance against Italy, delivering the best display of his international career. The West Ham midfielder answered fierce criticism from former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness, who had been one of Rice’s vocal critics. Souness had previously stated that Rice had only one of the three attributes needed to be a vital part of any team – creativity, goal-scoring ability, and a defensive head. However, Rice proved him wrong by scoring England’s opening goal and putting on a midfield masterclass.
Rice’s all-round game was outstanding as he won big challenges, picked up second balls, and drove his way past those in blue shirts. He also took control of the game and remained calm and focused, even after being booked for time-wasting. Rice’s performance against the European champions will have been of particular interest to clubs such as Arsenal, who will make an attempt to sign him in the summer.
Although Harry Kane is now England’s record scorer and captain, there is no doubt that Rice will be the next player to take the prized armband. However, it is important that Rice stays fit because the options for England in this position are not great. Fellow midfielder Kalvin Phillips, who has only started two cup games for Manchester City, looked way off the pace in the opening exchanges and was a liability.
To their credit, Gareth Southgate’s team stood firm when in previous years they would have folded. Even after the sending-off of Luke Shaw with ten minutes left, England reverted to five at the back and fought hard until the end. Rice had to work hard to earn his 40th cap, although it should be noted that this was his 43rd international appearance, as three of them were wearing a green shirt. Each time he plays for England and delivers a performance like this, it must be a kick in the guts for everyone who follows the Irish.