England continued their 100 per cent start in Euro 2020 qualifying as Harry Kane’s hat-trick helped them to a resounding 4-0 win over Bulgaria at Wembley on Saturday.
Gareth Southgate’s side were far from their fluid best in the opening stages, but a third straight win in Group A never looked in doubt after Kane’s opener in the 24th minute.
The Three Lions captain added a second from the penalty spot three minutes into the second half, before teeing up Raheem Sterling for a third.
Kane added another from the spot in the 73rd minute as England warmed up for Tuesday’s visit of the group’s surprise package, Kosovo, in style.
After a subdued start, Kane thought he had given the hosts a 19th-minute lead. The Tottenham striker had strayed into an offside position, however, before tucking away Raheem Sterling’s pass from close range.
He was not to be denied five minutes later, though, taking full advantage of slapstick goalkeeping from Plamen Iliev to score his 23rd international goal.
After a short goal-kick, Iliev’s attempted pass to Vasil Bozhikov was cut out by Sterling, who teed up Kane to stroke home from six yards.
Kane went close again shortly before the interval, heading straight at Iliev from Kieran Trippier’s teasing right-wing cross.
Jordan Pickford kept out Wanderson’s close-range effort a few moments after the restart, before a surging run from Marcus Rashford led to England’s second.
The Manchester United forward was brought down in the area by Nikolay Bodurov, with Kane coolly stroking home the resulting spot-kick.
Kane turned provider for England’s third in the 55th minute, crossing for Sterling to bundle home his ninth international goal from point-blank range.
The 26-year-old added gloss to a superb individual display 17 minutes from time, whipping in from the penalty spot after he had been clumsily brought down in the area by Kristian Dimitrov.
What does it mean? Southgate’s side in rude health
They might have fallen one short of the five goals they plundered in each of their opening two group games, but England once again enjoyed themselves against limited opposition. They are top of Group A after three games and you would not back against them qualifying for next year’s tournament without dropping points.
Kane proves he is more than able
The talismanic striker made light of suggestions he has started the season short of full fitness, delivering a masterclass in how to lead the line. Not only did he find the back of the net three times, but he also superbly picked out Sterling for England’s third.
Iliev’s lapse proves costly
Bulgaria will be left to rue Iliev’s moment of madness. They were holding England at bay with something approaching relative ease, but their goalkeeper’s misplaced pass was ruthlessly punished to set Southgate’s side on their way to a comfortable win.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– England are unbeaten in their 11 matches against Bulgaria (W7 D4 L0) – against no nation have they played more often without losing (level with Finland and Turkey).
– The Three Lions have avoided defeat in each of their last 42 European Championship and World Cup qualifying matches (W33 D9 L0), since losing 1-0 to Ukraine in October 2009.
– Kane became the first player to score 25 or more 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).
– 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 outings.
– Atletico Madrid’s Tripper became the first player representing a Spanish team at club level to play for the England men’s team since David Beckham (Real Madrid) in June 2007.
England will hope to continue their fine start to qualifying when Kosovo – who have picked up eight points from their four games – visit Wembley on Tuesday, while Bulgaria’s attentions turn to a friendly against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on the same day.
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