England book their place in Euro 2020 finals

Booing of Joe Gomez a blot on an evening when everything else was close to perfect for England

 Marcus Rashford (left) and Tammy Abraham celebrate an England goal. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Marcus Rashford (left) and Tammy Abraham celebrate an England goal. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

 

England 7 Montenegro 0

It was a night when England celebrated their football history and threatened to run up an historic scoreline. As the goals flew in during a first-half blitz, embossed by a Harry Kane hat-trick, it felt necessary to check the team’s previous 999 internationals for record scorelines.

The post-war highs were the 10-0 drubbings of Portugal (1947) and the United States (1964) and they looked in peril as Gareth Southgate’s youthful team poured forward from all angles and went into the interval with a 5-0 lead.

The TV cameras picked out Raheem Sterling in the stands, to where he was confined after his lead role in Scratch of the Day - the bust-up on Monday with his teammate Joe Gomez - and there was an unhappy continuation of the controversy after Southgate introduced Gomez as a second-half substitute.

Sterling applauded him on but there were loud boos from some in the 77,277 Wembley crowd. At this point, it is probably worth pointing out that Gomez, who played at right-back, was the victim of Sterling’s attack. It was difficult not to feel sympathy for him.

It was equally hard to read too much into the significance of this result, so woeful were Montenegro. The only mercy was that they tightened up in the second half, although England - for whom James Maddison got on to make his debut - undoubtedly eased up.

What Southgate could enjoy was the cut and thrust of the first-half performance, in which all of his attacking players shone but Kane was the main man, his goals taking his England tally to 31, lifting him clear of Alan Shearer, Nat Lofthouse and Tom Finney into sixth on the all-time list.

The marking of the 1000th international consisted largely of a gaggle of former England players being introduced to the crowd at half-time. David Seaman and Wayne Rooney were interviewed on the pitch, together with Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson, as the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Sol Campbell and Tony Adams milled about. It felt pretty low-key. Southgate’s memory will be of a thrashing that confirmed qualification for the Euro 2020 finals next summer.

England’s Harry Kane scores his side’s fifth goal.
England’s Harry Kane scores his side’s fifth goal.

Southgate had said that his starting XI would be even younger than the lineup he sent out for the landmark win over Spain in Seville last October and it was - by an average of 104 days per man, making it England’s most youthful starting team since 1959. The theme of the evening was history and opportunity had knocked loudly for a clutch of players, including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had been the surprise inclusion in the side.

It was Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first start for England since March 2018 and, after a season in which he has struggled to break into Liverpool’s best XI in the Premier League, he wasted no time in making his mark. Trent Alexander-Arnold switched the play from right to left and it was Ben Chilwell who dropped in a lovely ball over the Montenegro left-back, Risto Radunovic, for Oxlade-Chamberlain to control before getting the rout started with a sweet low drive.

Oxlade-Chamberlain’s inclusion ahead of Declan Rice made sense against opponents as limited as Montenegro; he brought attacking balance on the right of Southgate’s midfield three, complementing Mason Mount on the left. With Alexander-Arnold at right-back and Jadon Sancho in front of Oxlade-Chamberlain, England looked mightily potent up the right. Then again, Rashford’s pace on the other flank was equally menacing.

It was apparent from the outset that England would win at a canter, with those in white simply too quick and too technical for their opponents. And that was before Montenegro’s horrible defensive shortcomings were factored in.

There were times when England’s superiority felt almost cruel, and some of them followed the moments when Southgate’s players stood over set pieces. Chilwell had three assists inside the opening 24 minutes. He whipped over one free-kick and one corner for Kane to score with headers when Dusan Lagator’s attempts at marking defied the description.

It was crazy to say but England could have had eight or nine by half-time. Kane was denied early on, he ought to have had a penalty after he saw a header repelled by Aleksandar Sofranac’s hand - Mount almost scored from the rebound - and Marcus Rashford twice went close.

Everybody wanted to get in on the act; to pile on the misery for Montenegro. Rashford scored the fourth after Harry Maguire’s header was saved and Kane helped himself to the hat-trick following Alexander-Arnold’s cross. The room that England were granted inside the Montenegro area was astonishing.

Weirdly, given England’s total first-half dominance, Montenegro could look back upon two gilt-edged chances to score themselves. Marko Simic drew a flying save out of Jordan Pickford with a bullet header while Fatos Beciraj ran clean through but could not beat the goalkeeper when one-on-one. That was a bad moment for John Stones, who was caught out by a low through-ball. More in keeping with the Montenegro performance was the frustration displayed by Marko Vesovic, who butted Rashford in the 33rd minute and got away with a yellow card.

England’s Joe Gomez comes on fo Mason Mount.
England’s Joe Gomez comes on fo Mason Mount.

The booing of Gomez was the blot on the evening but everything else was close to perfect, not least the moment when Tammy Abraham, on as a second-half substitute, stretched to guide home Sancho’s low cross for his first England goal.

That was the seventh goal, which ensured England recorded their biggest win at the new Wembley, with the sixth having been a comical own goal. For the umpteenth time, Rashford flicked on the afterburners, got to the byline and crossed and, when Sancho could not react in time, Mount scuffed a shot at goal, although it was off target. Sofranac did the rest, shinning the ball into the net off his own crossbar.

Mount had earlier had a goal disallowed following a fiendishly tight offside call and the crowd came to amuse themselves with Mexican waves and throwing a few paper aeroplanes. For Montenegro the full-time whistle could not come quickly enough. - Guardian

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