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 fifth in England’s list of leading scorers as a first-half hat-trick took his tally to 31, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain opened the scoring on his first start for 18 months and 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.
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.
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Source – BBC