England captain Harry Kane scored a hat-trick as they cruised to victory against Bulgaria at Wembley to maintain their 100% record in Euro 2020 qualifying.
Gareth Southgate’s side made it three wins from three with 14 goals scored, barely needing to break sweat as they comfortably cleared another obstacle in their path to next summer’s showpiece.
Kane and Raheem Sterling were deadly once more as England built momentum from a low-key first 45 minutes to brush Bulgaria aside.
The pair combined to give England a 24th-minute lead when Sterling pounced on an error by Bulgaria goalkeeper Plamen Iliev at a goal-kick to set up Kane for a smart finish on the turn.
Kane scored England’s second from the spot four minutes after the break, the penalty awarded for Nikolay Bodurov’s foul on Marcus Rashford, then he crossed for Sterling to bundle home the third in the 55th minute.
Tottenham’s Kane completed his treble with another spot-kick after he was hauled down by Kristian Dimitrov to take his outstanding international record to 25 goals from 40 appearances, with this his second hat-trick after achieving the same feat against Panama in the 2018 World Cup.
Southgate, with victory assured, was able to give a senior debut to Chelsea’s Mason Mount as England had the perfect preparation for the next qualifier against Kosovo in Southampton on Tuesday.
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Kane and Sterling set the standard
Kane and Sterling will claim the headlines for England once more and rightly so – they are a deadly pair of attackers operating at the top of their game.
Kane’s hat-trick takes him past England’s 1966 World Cup final hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst, who scored 24 goals in 49 appearances for the Three Lions.
Sterling set him up for his first and Kane repaid the compliment for England’s third, their partnership growing in stature and providing Southgate with an attacking weapon that will cause problems for most defences.
Sterling’s pace was a constant threat to an admittedly very poor Bulgaria side but, in tandem with Kane, he was able to lift England from a poor first-half display on to a level that eventually made it simply a matter of how many they would score.
England have been presented with what, on the surface, looks like a very comfortable passage to Euro 2020 from Group A – but the manner in which they have swept aside the Czech Republic, Montenegro and now Bulgaria has been quietly impressive.
England cruising to Euro 2020
England may have come up short at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and this summer’s Uefa Nations League Finals, but it seems a formality that they will get another crack at ending the years of hurt at Euro 2020.
In reality, England and manager Gareth Southgate could barely have asked for a kinder draw than the one they have been given and it is hard to see any of the teams in their group seriously troubling them.
The only problem England may face is that, once again, the first serious test of their credentials, ambitions and progress may yet come in the Euros next summer.
Southgate must make sure England are ready and match sharp for that, both with performances and by building a squad that will hit the ground running once the serious action starts at Euro 2020.
England may not have too many serious tests before then so Southgate will need to use time and games wisely to assemble a squad that is finally in shape to get over the line when it matters.
Man of the match – Harry Kane (England)
‘We enjoy playing together’ – what they said
England striker Harry Kane speaking to ITV: “First half we got caught on the counter a couple of times, we said at half-time we needed to try and come out and get an early goal and that’s what we did. It’s a good result we hope to take into Tuesday.
“It’s great for [Raheem Sterling] that he’s taken his club form into international form, he’s an amazing player. We enjoy playing together, we all do.”
England manager Gareth Southgate speaking to ITV: “I think it improved as the game went on. We didn’t need to over-complicate things. We looked dangerous, at times we took a few too many touches. Their formation caused us problems out of possession as well.
“In a game like this you have got to make sure the concentration is right. I always felt we had enough firepower to win the game. I’m not sure it’s complacency – every team will have some moments, you just have to make sure you see the runs – but I’m generally pleased. Some of our attacking play was really exciting.”
No qualifying defeat in almost 10 years – the stats
- England are unbeaten in their 11 matches against Bulgaria (W7 D4 L0) – they’ve faced no nation more times without losing (11 – level with Finland and Turkey).
- England are unbeaten in their last 42 Euro/World Cup qualifying matches (W33 D9 L0), since losing 0-1 to Ukraine in October 2009.
- Bulgaria haven’t won an away match in qualifying for the World Cup or the European Championship since June 2015 against Malta, drawing two and losing eight since then.
- Harry Kane became the first player to score 25+ goals in his first 40 appearances for the England men’s team since Gary Lineker (27 goals). It was his 13th hat-trick for club and country (11 for Spurs, two for England).
- Kane has scored eight penalties for England (excluding shoot-outs) – only Frank Lampard (nine) has netted more for the Three Lions.
- Raheem Sterling has been directly involved in nine goals in his last seven appearances for England (seven goals and two assists); as many goal involvements as he registered in his previous 33.
- Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid) became the first player representing a Spanish club to play for the England men’s team since David Beckham (Real Madrid) in June 2007.