Gareth Southgate’s team confirmed qualification for the 2020 Uefa European Championship in style with an emphatic 7-0 win over Montenegro.
There was already celebratory mood in the air at Wembley as the FA marked the Three Lions’ 1,000th match, and the party really got going as the hosts raced in a 5-0 lead by half-time against their game but limited Group A rivals.
Harry Kane was the star of that first 45 minutes, notching a quickfire hat-trick after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had opened the scoring 11 minutes in, and Marcus Rashford also got on the scoresheet on the half-hour.
England, perhaps understandably, let the tempo drop after the break, but an own goal from Aleksandar Sofranac and Tammy Abraham’s first senior strike for the hosts completed Montenegro’s misery on an historic night.
England’s youngest-ever starting XI looked a little anxious early on as the visitors – with no hope of Euro 2020 qualification – pushed forward, but any nerves were soon settled by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s accomplished finish.
Kane now has 31 goals in 44 games, which leaves him 22 off the record held by Wayne Rooney, who he replaced for his first cap
With England knocking on the door, Ben Chilwell drove towards the box from the centre of the pitch and flighted a perfect ball over the top for the Liverpool midfielder who took a touch before nestling the ball into the bottom left corner.
It was the first time Oxlade-Chamberlain, a relative veteran at 26, had started for his country since March 2018, and his first goal in an England shirt for over two years.
Skipper Kane missed a golden opportunity to open his account just minutes later as his goal-bound header hit Sofranic, but the Tottenham striker got off the mark before 20 minutes were on the clock.
It came from a free kick on the edge of the box as Chilwell – playing only his 10th England match but looking every inch an established international – again came up with the assist. He planted the ball perfectly onto the captain’s head and Kane made no mistake this time.
The number nine was crucial to Southgate’s plan, dropping deep and carrying the ball to make space for the midfielders to get involved, and it bore fruit again in the 24th minute.
It was that Chilwell-Kane combination which crushed any lingering hopes that Montenegro had of getting back into the game. This time from a corner, the Leicester City full-back presented his team-mate with another header that ended up in the net, bringing up 30 goals for the prolific Spurs star.
Chilwell, later named as man of the match, became the first England player since Glen Johnson in June 2009, to bag three assists for his country.
Montenegro were not quite done, however, and there was almost a shock to the system as Jordan Pickford was forced into making a point-blank save to deny defender Marko Simic in the 27th minute.
Normal service was soon resumed, however, this time through Rashford. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross was met by the head of Harry Maguire, but Milan Mijatovic’s save fell to the Manchester United forward, who twisted and turned his way through the defence before burying the ball into the net.
Montenegro were 5-0 down by the interval as Kane completed his hat-trick in the 37th minute. Trent Alexander-Arnold was the creator, playing in his in-form skipper to find the far left-hand corner of the goal.
A mix-up in England’s defence meant that Pickford again had to come to the rescue as Fatos Beqiraj found space between John Stones and Maguire, but the Everton keeper was quickly off his line to deny him in the 41st minute.
Gareth Southgate gave both Kane and Oxlade-Chamberlain a chance to rest, with James Maddison and Tammy Abraham coming on in the 57th minute, as the game – no longer really a contest – entered a less explosive phase.
Kane departed with 31 goals in 44 games which leaves him 22 off the record held by Wayne Rooney, who was among a group of former England stars greeted with warm applause on the pitch at half-time.
Still only 26, Kane looks set to be England’s main goal threat for several years to come, and surely has every chance of surpassing Rooney’s total.
No England player was required for the next goal as defender Sofranic found himself in the wrong place at the right time for the hosts. A Rashford cross came off Jadon Sancho before Mason Mount’s shot hit bar, only for the unfortunate Sofranic to divert the rebound over the line for 6-0.
With sections of the 77,277 crowd starting to drift away to beat the Wembley post-match rush, Abraham completed the scoring, combining with winger Sancho who played the ball across for the Chelsea striker to slide it home with six minutes remaining.
The only blemish on an otherwise perfect evening for England came when some fans booed Joe Gomez as he came on as a substitute, following his minor fracas with Raheem Sterling which led to the Manchester City striker being dropped for the 1,000th game.
Sterling later took to social media to defend Gomez and again accept the blame for their bust-up. Southgate will want to draw a firm line under the row and begin his planning for next summer’s tournament.
Photos by Brandon Prangell.