When Manchester United and Arsenal combined to beat Italy

Arguably England’s finest performance against the Azzurri came under Glenn Hoddle back in 1997, with two Premier League rivals combining with aplomb.

Paul Scholes’ England career may be tinged with a sense of regret considering his status as arguably the finest footballer of an entire generation of Three Lions stars.

But despite the many disappointments along the way, there were also times when things went pretty well for the Manchester United man.

A goal against Tunisia at the 1998 World Cup as well as a hat-trick against Poland in a 1999 fixture stand out as particular highlights, while his two goals against Scotland at Hampden Park sealed England’s place at Euro 2000.

Yet one notable appearance that ranks among Scholes’ finest showings for the national side came even earlier than that, and is one that often gets overlooked.

The 1997 Tournoi de France was something of a precursor for the Confederations Cup, with England one of three teams selected alongside the World Cup hosts to take part in a friendly tournament.

One of the other sides involved was then-qualifying foes Italy, who were on a high after beating England 1-0 at Wembley.

Yet, with Scholes in his pomp, it would prove to be a different story at the Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes, with the Manchester United man combining to devastating effect with an old Premier League foe.

Like Scholes, Ian Wright was never truly given the opportunity to impress for England, despite scoring regularly for Arsenal.

Often behind the likes of Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham in the England pecking order, the Arsenal man managed just nine goals in 33 stop-start appearances for the Three Lions.

But, as with Scholes, things would turn out altogether differently against Italy with the pair inspiring the national side to arguably their best ever win over the Azzurri.

Make no mistake – this was a good Italy side, with recent Champions League winners like Ciro Ferrara and Alessandro Costacurta present and correct.

But they could do little to combat the dynamic duo, with Scholes operating as a supporting striker behind the Arsenal hitman.

The first goal was an exquisite finish from Wright, set up by a lofted wonder pass from the Manchester United maestro.

Wright duly returned the favour, laying on a goal for Scholes who finished the move emphatically.

Italy were down and out before half-time and England discovered the confidence and composure that had been lacking from that 1-0 qualifying defeat to the Azzurri.

They would go on to pip Italy to top spot in the group in July of that year, though the Italians would ultimately progress further in the following summer’s World Cup.

Yet for one beautiful match, Scholes, Wright and England looked superb.

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