Just one point is now required to reach the 2022 World Cup, after a number of points were made on the pitch.
England offered their most convincing performance of a fine year to close it out, with something closer to Gareth Southgate’s ideal side seeing out a 5-0 win over a ragged Albania. All of the scoring came in a hugely assertive first-half performance, with the majority of it done by Harry Kane.
The captain has had an imperfect start to the season, but here scored a perfect hat-trick - head, left foot, right foot.
Jordan Henderson meanwhile showed why he should still be the main midfield pick with a goal, but only after Harry Maguire had set a tone with his opening goal and celebration. In one of the few contentious points of the night beyond some of Albania’s tackling, the centre-half cupped his ears after his goal, in an apparent rebuke to those criticising him.
That despite the fact one of those critics has been Maguire himself, but it’s equally difficult to dispute it set a tone.
England were defying a few supposedly defining traits of the year, to close it out in style.
All around the pitch, and the occasion, there was a sense of points being proven.
That even applied to the line-up, and how it synched with the performance.
In England’s last game, at home to Hungary, Southgate played more of his flair players than ever and it produced one of the most uninspired displays of the year with a 1-1 draw.
Here, he started with what seemed a defensive approach and it resulted in what was arguably the most aggressive and convincing performance in two years.
There is something instructive about that, it must be said, and that might be the importance of Jordan Henderson. He offers a better balance to the team, properly linking the defence and attack.
It should be acknowledged this wasn’t the half-fit Henderson of the summer, but one fully firing and ready to burst forward whenever the opportunity arose. That was certainly the case on 18 minutes, when the Liverpool captain took Kane’s flick in his stride and surged through to beat Thomas Strakosha.
Maguire had by then already scored his header, and offered his celebration, to go with Albania losing both Keidi Bare and Marash Kumbulla to injury. That went some way to explaining why they were so ragged but all the way. These things tend to go in both directions, as England were clearly emboldened by how open it all was.
Kane, who had to address his own poor form in the press conferences previewing the game, clearly sensed goals.
It meant he scored England’s first first-half hat-trick since… merely two years ago, and his own against Montenegro.
This did look much more like the Kane of two years ago. It was a striker free and unburdened, with that particularly applying to the concepts of “defending” and “marking”. Albania just left Kane free to head in his first, and watched him waltz through their backline for the second.
The goal that sealed the hat-trick was at once fantastic and almost farcical.
In an international match, where both teams have players from Europe’s top-five leagues, a striker really shouldn’t be allowed execute a bicycle kick just yards from the back post.
That’s what happened, though, and that was pretty much it.
The only point of note thereafter was the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe, making his senior international debut.
Albania had the look of a team adapting to too much in the first half, not least the absence of key players in a new approach against one of Europe’s best teams, but it just ensured chaos.
They got a hold of things in the second half, to the point Southgate’s side couldn’t fully grasp that World Cup place.
That will have to wait until San Marino on Monday - but even a fixture like that may not be as forgiving as this.
That is when the questions over Qatar may really start too.
For now, it was all so easy.
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