England celebrated their 1,000th game in style as they secured qualification for Euro 2020 and won Group A with an emphatic demolition of Montenegro at Wembley.
Captain Harry Kane moved to sixth in England’s list of leading scorers as a first-half hat-trick took his tally to 31 – overhauling Frank Lampard, Alan Shearer, Nat Lofthouse and Tom Finney.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain opened the scoring on his first start for 18 months while Marcus Rashford was also on the scoresheet in that 45-minute barrage.
As England and the Football Association enjoyed this landmark occasion, with a parade of legends and 1966 World Cup winners in attendance, Montenegro proved the most amenable of opponents, particularly in the opening half when Kane and company ran riot and the visitors’ defending was shambolic.
Oxlade-Chamberlain finished superbly to begin the rout while Kane quickly added two headers, with all three goals created by Leicester City defender Ben Chilwell. England’s captain and Rashford were also the beneficiaries of Montenegro generosity before the interval.
It was also in evidence in the second half when Aleksandar Sofranac diverted Mason Mount’s shot into his own net for England’s sixth.
To complete a perfect night for Gareth Southgate and England- who by qualifying automatically ensured they will play all three Euro 2020 group matches at Wembley – the manager was able to give a debut to Leicester City’s James Maddison, while substitute Tammy Abraham scored his first full international goal.
The introduction of Liverpool’s Joe Gomez appeared to be bizarrely greeted by some jeers from England fans after the clash with Raheem Sterling that saw the Manchester City forward dropped as a disciplinary measure, but otherwise Southgate’s side marked this gala occasion and qualification with a flourish before Sunday’s final game in Kosovo.
Happy end to Southgate’s tough week
It has been a testing week for Southgate as he had to handle the fallout from the altercation between Sterling and Gomez at St George’s Park on Monday, 24 hours after Liverpool beat Manchester City in the Premier League.
Southgate dropped Sterling but he could sit back and relax as England answered any remaining questions with a first-half performance that ended this game as a contest in short order. Sterling is a world-class player but was not missed as the team Southgate picked dissected hapless Montenegro.
If results have been comfortable in this group – defeat in the Czech Republic apart – Southgate has had difficulties off the field following the racial abuse aimed at England’s players in Montenegro and Bulgaria, and the disturbance involving Sterling and Gomez.
It was a moment that tested the unity of an England squad so carefully crafted by Southgate, but all seemed well as Sterling applauded defender Gomez’s appearance as a second-half substitute.
However, the booing from some sections of the Wembley crowd was mystifying, whoever was the target. It was the only sour note of the night and totally unnecessary.
England’s players provided the best medicine with a victory that once again demonstrated their ability to destroy vulnerable opponents with a potent attack, as they have done throughout this qualifying campaign.
Now they must finish the job with victory in Kosovo as they try to ensure they are seeded for Euro 2020. Greater tests then lie ahead.
England’s youth comes through with panache
This was England’s youngest starting line-up for 60 years, with an average age of 23 years and 255 days – and while the opposition was poor, this was a very promising glimpse into the future.
Leicester City’s Chilwell demonstrated his growth as a player of international stature and his rounded game as he created those first three goals, while Wembley cheered the arrival of his Foxes team-mate Maddison as the gifted midfielder finally got his debut.
Abraham’s development into a striker and poacher of growing quality was emphasised by his clinical near-post finish for England’s seventh, and his young Chelsea team-mate Mount was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet.
Mount is 20, while Chilwell, Abraham and Maddison are all still only 22, so they can be part of England’s plans for years to come.
Liverpool’s Oxlade-Chamberlain may be one of the older brigade these days even though he is still only 26 – but he has endured a lengthy absence from the England scene because of injury. He has been in rich goalscoring form this season, as proved by his powerful, low finish that set England on their way. Southgate will be delighted to have him back at his disposal.
All in all, this was pretty much the ideal night for Southgate and his players as they prepare to travel to Kosovo to conclude another successful qualifying campaign.
‘We wanted to put on a show’
England manager Gareth Southgate on BBC Radio 5 Live: “We played so well in the first half. I know France have taken a long time tonight to get a victory against Moldova.
“We have won a group that we should win but we have won it comfortably and we have found a way of playing against those lower-ranked teams that defend in numbers. We have found a way to break them down, which maybe in the past we haven’t.”
England captain Harry Kane to ITV: “We have had one slip-up in the group and responded really well. We got the job done and wanted to put on a show in our 1,000th game. With five goals in the first half, I think we did that.
“We want to win that game away from home [against Kosovo]. We will enjoy this with one eye on Sunday.”
Scoring big – the best of the stats
- In what was England’s 1,000th match (W569, D241, L190), the Three Lions earned their biggest home win since October 1987 (8-0 against Turkey).
- England were 5-0 up after just 37 minutes, which is the earliest they have scored five goals in a game since November 1946 (35 minutes against the Netherlands).
- England have scored 34 goals in nine games in 2019, their highest tally in a calendar year since 1982 (34 in 15 games). They last scored more in a single year in 1966 (38).
- England (33) have overtaken Belgium (30) as the highest scorers in Euro 2020 qualifying so far.
- England have benefited from 54 own goals in their 1,000 matches – one more than their all-time highest goalscorer Wayne Rooney netted.
- Abraham got his first senior international goal for England, becoming the 430th player to score for the Three Lions.