ENGLAND 5, ALBANIA 0
Harry Kane banished his miserable club form with a masterful goalscoring display in England’s comprehensive win against Albania which left them within touching distance of a place in next year’s finals of the World Cup.
It was a case of Captain Fantastic as Kane scored a memorable fourth hat-trick for England as he drew level with Jimmy Greaves on the all-time scoring list with 44.
Kane, who silenced his critics, also surpassed Wayne Rooney’s record of scoring 37 goals in competitive matches as England only need one point in San Marino to top Group I and qualify automatically for Qatar.
The Spurs striker has also scored 10 goals in a calendar year for a second time as he took his total to 12 to match his 2019 effort. The only other player to achieve that feat was Vivian Woodward in 1908 and 1909.
There were also goals for Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson as England blitzed an Albania side which had been vying with Poland for second spot in the group.
Kane said: “The first half was an incredible performance. The pressure was on and we needed a result. It’s a great way to get closer to qualifying.
“Whenever you put on an England shirt you want to do everyone proud. Maybe we had a point to prove and we came out on fire.
“Whenever I get chances, I feel like I’m going to score. I could probably have had six on another night.”
England have also scored 42 goals in the calendar year overtaking their previous best of 39 in 1908.
It was a night to remember also for manager Gareth Southgate who was in his 67th match as he equalled the total of Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Southgate has recorded 43 wins to Eriksson’s 40 and his win ratio of 64 per cent in only bettered by Fabio Capello.Embed from Getty Images
The England manager said: “The first half was fantastic, as well as we’ve played for a long time. It was hard to maintain that.
“We’re best when we have an edge. We didn’t produce what we should against Hungary, but we had a game tonight that could put us on the verge of qualification for the World Cup.
“I thought Harry gave a brilliant centre forward’s performance – held the ball up, played other people in. HIs all-round game was excellent.”
Asked whether he will sign a new contract: “We need a point [to qualify] and it would be wrong for my attention to be anywhere else. It’s an irrelevance for me.
“I’m under contract. I’m very well backed and supported, and my focus is just on getting qualification done.”
After the failed experiment of playing a more expansive game against Hungary last month, Southgate reverted to less adventurous line-up with three centre backs.
With essentially five defenders along with Kalvin Phillips and Jordan Henderson anchoring the midfield, it was left to Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Kane to provide the cutting edge.
And man of the moment Emile Smith Rowe, promoted from the U21s, had to settle for a place on the bench.
Southgate’s options were restricted with a lengthy list of absentees including midfielders Declan Rice and Mason Mount and defender Luke Shaw.
The heavy rain and slippery surface ensured an electrifying start with the match played at a pulsating pace.
England had an early penalty appeal rejected after Sterling went down theatrically, though replays showed there was contact.
The breakthrough came in the ninth minute when Klaus Gjasula was booked for a scything challenge on Kane.
Reece James delivered a perfect free kick with Maguire finding the net with a bullet header from eight yards, his sixth goal in his 40th senior appearance.
Albania almost equalised after an errant back pass from Kyle Walker released Myrto Uzuni who was clean through only for Jordan Pickford to make a hugely important block to keep England ahead.
The visitors, with seven thousand fans backing them, lost two players through injury in the opening 17 minutes and then went 2-0 down as Kane headed his 42nd international goal.
James made a great break and it ended with Henderson, after playing a return pass with Foden, cutting a cross back from the right for Kane to head home at the far post from five yards.
It was Kane’s 10th international goal of the calendar year. No other player has done that for England in more than 100 years.
And it got even better for England when Henderson made it 3-0 in the 28th minute with a terrific solo effort, surprisingly only his second in 68 games.
After playing a return pass with Kane, Henderson made a slalom run before shooting low past goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.
Kane made it 43 goals for England, and only one shy of Jimmy Greaves’ total, when he made it 4-0 in the 33rd minute.
Sterling intercepted a stray pass in midfield and released Kane who struck an angled shot across the goalkeeper high into the far corner.
It was his 37th England goal in competitive matches as he equalled the record held by Rooney who is the overall record holder with 53.
Kane had two great chances to complete a first half hat-trick as he shot narrowly wide and then glanced a header past the upright with Albania is disarray.
But Kane’s fourth treble for England came in stoppage time when Kane made it 5-0 with a spectacular scissor kick from Foden’s corner as he equalled Greaves’ record of 44 international goals.
It was also the perfect hat-trick, header, left foot, right foot, the first such one since David Platt’s three against San Marino in 1993.
With the game won, the second half was essentially a non-event as underlined by the obligatory Mexican wave after an hour.
As former England goalkeeper and pundit Rob Green said: “England are well on their way to a comfortable win. They have come out and been a little bit flat now in this second half.
“It is very difficult to criticise but as a team you have to get your personal motivations now – opportunities to score and opportunities to get your stats up.”
Southgate’s response was a triple substitution in the 63rd minute as Kane, Phillips and Foden made way for Tammy Abraham, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham.
A clash of heads involving Stones and James left both players requiring lengthy treatment, but both were able to continue.
Southgate made his last two changes with 14 minutes left as James and Sterling were replaced by Trent Alexander-Arnold and debutant Smith Rowe.
The only surprise was only two minutes stoppage time was signalled in view of the lengthy treatment James and Stones required and the plethora of second-half substitutes.
It was as though French referee Ruddy Buquet was anxious to spare Albania further agony.