KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY —- England celebrated the milestone of their 1,000th international by marching towards the finals of Euro 2020 with a 7-0 demolition of Montenegro with Harry Kane scoring his third hat-trick for his country.
England manager Gareth Southgate would have welcomed a decisive victory for a variety of reasons including a need to drown out the pre-match fuss over a spat between Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez. The Manchester City forward had been dropped as punishment for squaring up to the Liverpool defender in the team hotel. He was not missed.
The happy homecoming, after last month’s controversy-scarred win in Bulgaria, was watched in the 77,277 crowd by dozens of former internationals who had been invited to share the occasion.
Victory meant England finishing top of Group A and thus playing all their group matches in the finals next June at Wembley. Knockout round victories in Dublin and Rome would bring them home to Wembley for the semi-finals and final.
Montenegro began hopefully but were quickly thrown on to the back foot. In the 11th minute the unmarked Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stepped in from the right to rifle home the opening goal after a lofted angled cross from Ben Chilwell.
Captain Kane made a mess of a free header two minutes later but offered amends in the 19th minute by scoring his first goal with a delicate glancing header to a free kick from Chilwell yet again.
Five more minutes and the Leicester City leftback delivered a left-wing cross to provide Kane’s second goal. Marcus Rashford made it 4-0 after Montenegro keeper Milan Mijatovic failed to defend yet another cross.
Kane’s goals lifted him to sixth in England’s all-time list. In so doing he overtook Frank Lampard and old-timer Vivian Woodward, both on 29, as well as Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer all on 30.
Montenegro were fortunate not to lose a player as well as all the goals. Just after the halfhour Vesovic snapped at Rashford’s ankles then, when the Manchester United forward complained, followed up with a headbutt. He escaped with a yellow card from Spanish referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz.
England thus led 5-0 at half-time and could not add to his total before being substituted early in the second half by Tammy Abraham. Simultaneously Oxlade-Chamberlain gave way to James Maddison, making his long-awaited and delayed senior debut as the 61st choice of Southgate’s reign.
Not that this halted the goals flow as Aleksandar Sofranac put through his goal – the 54th in England history – in the 70th minute before Gomez appeared as a substitute in place of Mason Mount; the television cameras cut to Sterling, applauding, in the stands.
The 85th minute saw Abraham reassure Southgate that, should Kane be injured, he would happily step up by making it seven from Jadon Sancho’s short, low cross.
England wrap up their qualifying schedule on Sunday in Kosovo. The result is academic.
England manager Gareth Southgate was well satisfied with both result and performance, being well aware that England have not always risen to the challenge presented by weaker but disciplined teams.
He said: “The quality of our attacking play in the first half was excellent. It’s a group we were expected to win but we’ve taken teams apart. Our speed of movement and ball circulation means we’ve carved those teams apart.
“We knew we had a team of our own tonight who would be comfortable with the ball and they killed the game within 25 minutes.
“Harry Kane is an incredible goalscorer but his also with his link play. He provides opportunities for others but when the opportunities are there he is absolutely ruthless.”
Montenegro coach Farukh Hadzibegic had no excuses to offer for his team’s weak display in which they were fortunate to have conceded only seven goals.
He said: “We made it easier for England that we should have. The gifts we handed them shouldn’t happen at this level. Hopefully we won’t do it again in the future.
“This England team have scored five or six against better sides. We had a lot of injuries and a good team like England can always punish that.”
Euro 2020 qualifiers
Group A: Czech Republic 2, Kosovo 1; England 7, Montenegro 0.
Group B: Portugal 6, Lithuania 0; Serbia 2, Luxembourg 2.
Group H: Turkey 0, Iceland 0; Albania 2, Andorra 2; France 2, Moldova 1.