Jude Bellingham makes centre stage his own as England’s youngest star sees off oldest rivals

Jude Bellingham showed his calibre once again  (The FA via Getty Images)
Jude Bellingham showed his calibre once again (The FA via Getty Images)

The oldest international rivalry was decided by the youngest player on the pitch. As Scotland and England marked 150 years since they first met, it was scarcely surprising the dominant figure was a man who has been alive for barely 20 of them.

Jude Bellingham has made a habit of excelling on foreign soil of late, becoming the Bundesliga’s player of the year, making a superlative start to life in Spain with Real Madrid and now inflicting a first defeat of 2023 on Scotland.

Bellingham played a part – two, really – in England’s first goal. He scored their second. He made their third for Harry Kane in wonderful fashion. A booking for a bust-up with Jack Hendry – it may be termed a bit of a stramash in these parts – was a sign of his competitive instincts.

A traumatic night for Harry Maguire, the unwitting scorer of Scotland’s goal, was a triumphant one for Bellingham. Wearing the No 10 – it will be instructive if the shirt remains his or ever returns to Raheem Sterling – and operating as a 10, he scored just his second goal for England. A month after his Real debut, he already has five for his new club, but the chances are that Bellingham will become more prolific in his country’s colours.

As, aided by Bellingham, England struck twice in four first-half minutes, it was a night of double disappointment for Scotland.

Their qualification to Euro 2024 could have been sealed if Norway failed to beat Georgia but instead Erling Haaland and company prolonged their wait. For Steve Clarke, the flagship win of 2023 came against Spain; in the final reckoning, it may count for more, much as overcoming England would have boosted their morale and much as his selection, with the strongest available team, scarcely suggested this was a friendly.

Bellingham is making the coveted No 10 slot his own (The FA via Getty Images)
Bellingham is making the coveted No 10 slot his own (The FA via Getty Images)

The crowd settled instead for spending the second half baiting the England substitute Maguire; his own goal could scarcely have been greeted with a louder cheer had it been scored by Hampden’s darling, John McGinn.

Yet goals by England’s two Harrys cancelled each other out, Kane restoring the two-goal margin, just as Scotland’s skipper set up a goal for either side: Andy Robertson initially erred for Bellingham’s strike then made a redemptive contribution to Maguire’s own goal, the left wing-back materialising on the right wing to turn provider. It was the one strike that did not involve Bellingham, such was his ubiquity.

After half an hour where England had plenty of possession but chances were rarities, a high-speed move that took them from one end of the pitch to the other, with both Kyle Walker and Bellingham twice involved. Walker’s pace facilitated it and, having scored a belated first England goal in his 77th cap, was aiming for a second with a low drive. It instead became an assist, Phil Foden deftly turning the ball in. It was a marked improvement on his first shot, skied from Marcus Rashford’s low cross.

Then Bellingham slotted in after an error by Robertson, stabbing the ball straight to the Real Madrid man. It was nevertheless the product of a new-found predatory sense and a willingness to spend more time in the box. Arguably his finest contribution, however, came for England’s third goal. A slick passing move came to a fine culmination when Bellingham span away from two defenders with enviable ease and released Kane to score his 59th England goal.

Gareth Southgate had made six changes but retained four major figures, in Kane, Bellingham, Walker and Declan Rice. The full-back, a player Southgate twice talked out of international retirement, showed his significance as a galloping force on England’s right. Rashford was a frequent outlet on the left, illustrating the importance of having at least one winger with the pace to run in behind defences; it is something James Maddison lacks and the Manchester United man may be winning their particular duel.

It was, though, another occasion to forget for the luckless Maguire. Summoned at half-time to replace Marc Guehi, he diverted Robertson’s cross past Aaron Ramsdale, giving the goalkeeper no chance. His every touch was cheered by the Scotland fans and, a century and a half after the first meeting between these countries finished goalless, the home support enjoyed his misfortune when they scored.

It was not the only sign of an intimidating atmosphere. God Save the King was drowned out by whistles and boos; Flower of Scotland was roared, choruses about Edward II’s distinctly unsuccessful 14th-century army being used to try and intimidate Southgate’s 21st-cenury troops.

Without stretching the historical parallels too far, not every English general has been able to call on someone of Bellingham’s calibre. Scotland, a fast-improving, arguably overachieving, team will not be the last to rue his excellence.