It felt inevitable that Harry Kane would eventually beat Wayne Rooney's goal-scoring record for the England men's national team, and the captain finally achieved that feat with his 54th career international goal in Thursday's 2-1 win over Italy in a European Championship qualifier.
Kane, 29, travelled to the 2022 World Cup with a total of 51 goals in 75 games for the Three Lions, with the Tottenham Hotspur striker needing two more to surpass former women's national team striker Ellen White (52) and one further strike to overtake Rooney (53) as his country's all-time top scorer.
- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
In his five matches in Qatar, Kane scored one goal in the 3-0 win over Senegal in the round of 16 to draw level with White and then netted a penalty in the quarterfinal against France. However, after sending another spot kick over the bar in the 2-1 loss the Les Bleus, Kane had to wait until Thursday's game at Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in Naples to claim the record outright -- on a penalty.
Rooney scored 53 goals for England during a distinguished 13-year international career which ended with the all-action forward bowing out as both his nation's top scorer and top outfield appearance-maker (120 caps.)
Rooney's international career and Kane's did overlap for a while, with both players sharing the pitch for England on 10 occasions before the former made his final appearance in November 2018 in a friendly against United States at Wembley -- a game for which Kane remained on the bench.
Kane's goal record for England
Kane has a goals-per-game record of 0.65 for England, which is better than Rooney (0.44), Sir Bobby Charlton (0.46), Gary Lineker (0.60), Michael Owen (0.45) and Alan Shearer (0.48.)
Kane scored his 50th senior goal for England in June on his 71st appearance, with his late penalty to secure a 1-1 draw against Germany in the UEFA Nations League. By contrast, Rooney's 50th goal for England was netted in his 107th appearance for his country, also at 29 years old.
🏴 Harry Kane ⚽️— UEFA EURO 2024 (@EURO2024) June 11, 2022
50 goals for England 👊#NationsLeague | @HKane | @England pic.twitter.com/TIejOvkm88
Kane then only scored one more goal in his final four internationals before the 2022 World Cup; again a late penalty in a Nations League draw with Germany, only this time in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Wembley in September.
Despite England scoring nine goals across their first three games at the World Cup, Kane did not net any of them, although he still contributed by setting up strikes for Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford in the 6-2 win over Iran and then another for Phil Foden in the 3-0 victory against Wales.
After equalising Rooney's mark in in the knockout stages in Qatar, Kane broke it on March 23 against Italy before halftime after VAR awarded a penalty for handball against Leonardo Spinazzola.
HE'S DONE IT! 👏— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 23, 2023
Harry Kane has now scored more goals for England than any other player in men's national team's history, breaking Wayne Rooney's record (54) 🏴 pic.twitter.com/SpTBZcspti
Of Kane's 54 goals for England, 18 have been penalties.
The even better news for Kane is that, with Rooney quitting international football in 2017 and retiring for good last year, and White hanging up her boots after England's Euro 2022 triumph in the summer, he is now free to keep boosting his numbers for the foreseeable future to keep his record safe for as long as possible.
How Rooney set the England record
Rooney was 29 when he tucked away a penalty against Switzerland in a 2-0 win at Wembley during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign to become England's new all-time top scorer in September 2015.
As well as being his 300th career goal for club and country, the 48th-minute spot kick was Rooney's 50th international goal for England in senior international competition, moving him one goal clear of the record which had been held by fellow Manchester United alumnus Charlton for 45 years. Rooney had equalled Charlton's 49-goal record just four days previous with another penalty successfully converted in a resounding 6-0 victory over San Marino that formally sealed the Three Lions' place at Euro 2016.
History maker 🙌#OnThisDay four years ago, @WayneRooney netted his 50th international goal to become the #ThreeLions' all-time leading goalscorer! pic.twitter.com/IjRTtMF2IP— England (@England) September 8, 2019
Coincidentally, Rooney's goal against the Swiss had only come after a fresh-faced 21-year-old Kane had emerged from the bench to open the scoring for England with his third goal in the space of four caps. This was off the back of a breakthrough season with Spurs in which he scored 31 goals in all competitions.
Speaking postmatch, Rooney was incredibly complimentary about his prolific new understudy and also admitted that Kane's emergence had started to make him "fear for his place" in the England team. Prescient stuff.
Genuinely thrilled for @WayneRooney . A terrific player with a record that will last for a long, long time. Or will it @hkane28 ?— Gary Lineker 💙💛 (@GaryLineker) September 8, 2015
The history of the England goal record
Prior to Rooney assuming the mantle, England's all-time goal record had stood at 49 goals and belonged to Charlton since 1970. However, the World Cup-winning midfielder had also both broken and lost the record himself during his 13-year international career
Having first made his debut for the Three Lions in 1958, it was a hat trick in an 8-1 rout of Switzerland in June 1963 that saw Charlton register his 30th goal for England, thus equalling the all-time scoring record shared by Tom Finney and Nat Lofthouse. Charlton's record-breaking 31st international goal then followed in October that same year when he scored in a 4-0 victory over Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff.
Charlton held the record for almost exactly a year before Jimmy Greaves, who played as an out-and-out striker, overtook his teammate's England goal tally in October 1964 with a hat trick against Northern Ireland in October 1964 -- his 11th international goal in his last 10 games and 32nd overall.
While Greaves continued to score at a steady rate, the resurgent Charlton then reclaimed the record once again in 1968 when he scored his 45th England goal -- a trademark long-range rocket -- in a friendly against Sweden therefore overtaking Greaves' tally of 44.
Charlton scored five more goals in the final 21 games of his England career before bowing out on 49 after the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, where he failed to find the net as the defending champions lost a quarterfinal to Brazil.
Two decades later, Lineker came close to equalling Charlton's record but ultimately ended his eight-year international career in 1992 with 48 goals scored over 80 games. It took until 2015 for Rooney to finally break the 50-goal barrier and thus write himself into history.