England almost there after giving Albania first-half Kaning
England (5) 5 Maguire 9, Kane 18, 33, 45, Henderson 28
Albania (0) 0
Harry Kane put all the frustrations of that missed move to Man City behind him as he helped himself to a first-half hat-trick to put England on the cusp of World Cup qualification.
The Spurs striker has endured a miserable start to the season and a combination of the draining effects of the Euros and the ignominy of having to give up on a dream transfer to Pep Guardiola’s side have had an impact.
Here, he showed the panache of old as the Three Lions ran a shell-shocked Albania ragged to leave themselves needing just a point in Monday’s final group match at San Marino to book a trip to Qatar next winter.
Kane now had 44 goals in 66 internationals and is closing in all the time on Wayne Rooney’s overall record of 53.
It has been a record-breaking year from Gareth Southgate’s men as a whole too.
The 42 plundered in 2021 eclipses a total of 39 scored way back in 1908.
England needed very little time to exert their authority and had the points virtually nailed down with the match only a quarter of the way though.
First, Harry Maguire put his own recent frustrations at club level behind him by getting in front of the last defender to nod home a Reece James free-kick.
Then it was the turn of Kane, who had the simplest of tasks to convert a close-range header after Phil Foden had ushered Jordan Henderson to the byline with a neat pass, allowing the Liverpool midfielder to cross to the unmarked striker.
The second goal, as the first, owed much to the swashbuckling James, who held off shirt-pulling defender in a barnstorming run which led to Kane finding the target.
Before the half was out, Henderson had made it three after combining well with an on-fire Kane before side-stepping Ardian Ismaji and slipping the ball past keeper Thomas Strakosha.
The hungry Kane made it four after being set free in the inside left channel by Raheem Sterling and drifting around two defenders before arrowing into the far corner.
And after coming close to his third with a low shot which flashed just wide, he crowned a perfect half with a spectacular overhead kick at the far-post from a Foden corner.
The only potential hiccup came at 1-0 when Kyle Walker’s blind backpass left Myrto Uzuni with a clear run to goal, but Jordan Pickford stood tall and beat the final shot aside. Albania already knew then that they would be unlikely to get many better opportunities.
They have been competitive in this qualification group but looked all at sea here in the face of purposeful pace and finishing from a rampant England.
As is often the way after such one-sided halves, the second 45 was a total non-event, punctuated by the usual flurry of subs. But it will have meant something to those taking part, especially Emile Smith Rowe, who earned his first cap.
There was a poignant pre-match tribute to Ron Flowers, the ex-Wolves player who became the latest member of the 66 squad to pass away this week. Only six of that squad remain as we approach another tournament – one that England are almost certain to be involved in.
England (3-4-3) Pickford – Walker, Maguire, Stones – James (Alexander-Arnold 77), Henderson, Phillips (Bellingham 63), Chilwell – Foden (Grealish 63), Kane (Abraham 63), Sterling (Smith Rowe 77). Subs not used: Johnstone, Ramsdale, Mings, Coady, Saka.
Albania (3-5-2) Strakosha – Ismajli, Kumbulla (Dermaku 17), Veseli – Hysaj, Bare (Laci 12), Gjasula, Bajrami (Ramadani h/t), Trashi (Mihaj h/t)– Cikalleshi, Uzuni (Roshi 87). Subs not used: Berisha, Selmani, Hoxhallari, Lenjani, Cekici, Balaj, Doka