Harry Kane on target in Albania as England make it two from two
Captain ends international goal drought as Mason Mount completes job in Tirana
Harry Kane celebrates after opening the scoring for England against Albania. Photograph: Ozan Kose/Getty/AFP
Albania 0 England 2
The disparity has been difficult to explain. Harry Kane’s numbers have been phenomenal for Tottenham this season; he is the joint top scorer in the Premier League and the outright leader in assists. In all competitions at club level, the striker has 27 goals and has set up 16 more. And yet when he began this World Cup qualifier against Albania, he had failed to find the net in six England matches and contributed only one assist.
Kane is the type of competitor to take these things personally and his determination to put things right was the driving force behind a victory that sets up England nicely for Wednesday’s crunch game against Poland at Wembley. Gareth Southgate’s team were lacking tempo and incision until Kane swooped to convert an excellent cross from Luke Shaw, who played his first international since September 2018. And when Kane played in Mason Mount for the second goal just after the hour, there was no doubt about the destination of the points.
England have tended to beat the teams that they would expect to beat under Gareth Southgate and there would be no exception against Albania, who are ranked 66th in the world. It was a performance that came to be marked by efficiency and comfort, and the clean sheet was welcome, too. Nick Pope, in for the injured Jordan Pickford, is still to concede after six caps. The goalkeeper did not have a save to make.
Southgate made the point before kick-off that if England wanted to be considered as a top team, they had to dictate on these type of occasions and his selection was made with front-foot football in mind. As he had done in last Thursday’s easy win over San Marino, he persisted with a back four but there was a slight change in front, with Mount given a roaming role behind Kane.
It was plain from an early juncture that a heavy surface would be problematic for England in their desire to play their passes at pace but also that Albania, who had won their opening qualifier in Andorra last Thursday, would be resolute out of possession in their 5-4-1 shape; that spaces in between their lines would have to be earned.
England found the going tough for much of the first-half. They struggled to get in behind their opponents and it felt as though set-pieces might be their best route to goal. Kane banged a low free-kick at Harry Maguire, who was in the Albania wall, while Declan Rice missed a free header when reasonably placed following a Phil Foden delivery.
Kane’s goal soothed the collective nerves. Mount recovered a half clearance out of the Albania defence and did well to turn and work the ball to Raheem Sterling, before accepting it back from him and then teeing up Shaw to cross first time. Shaw accepted the invitation and it was really was the most tantalising centre. Kane was already on the move, getting himself in front of Frederic Veseli, and the downwards header was placed inside the corner.
Albania flickered twice on the counter in the first half, with their big moment coming in the 13th minute after a loose back pass by Mount, which was seized upon by Elseid Hysaj. He drew Kyle Walker and played in Myrto Uzuni, who had only Pope to beat. His shot flew high.
England should have been further in front at half-time and, again, the threat came up the left flank. This time it was Sterling, taking a pass from Foden and putting over the perfect cross and, again, it was Kane that reacted more sharply than anybody in red. He got to the ball on the half-volley, five yards out and in line with the far post. The connection was true only for the effort to rattle the crossbar.
Kane’s goal changed the complexion of the match comprehensively, with Albania, who had worked tirelessly up to that point, feeling it sap them mentally and physically. England raised their intensity levels; their pressing was higher and more aggressive, their passing and movement sharper. Mount got into good areas while Sterling came to shimmer with menace.
Foden saw the goalkeeper, Etrit Berisha, push his low shot against the post on 52 minutes, after Mount and Sterling had linked up, while Kane almost forced home following a corner. The second goal had been advertised and it came when Berat Djimsiti played a pass out of defence straight to Sterling.
He found Kane, whose ball ushered in Mount on the overlap up the left.
Mount knew immediately what he had to do – open his body and lift the curling side-foot into the far corner. The execution was flawless.
Kane might have had another one after Sterling first miskicked and then squeezed a pass towards him only for his toe poke to go just wide. Kane was surprisingly booked for the way that he jumped into the chance. It was the only blot on his night. - Guardian