England 7 North Macedonia 0: Under-stated Bukayo Saka the hat-trick hero of demolition job

Given how Gareth Southgate's England have a habit of making even the spectacular look quietly efficient, Bukayo Saka is perhaps the perfect poster boy for this Three Lions team.

England managed to win 7-0 – the biggest defeat in North Macedonia's short footballing history – and the 21-year-old winger helped himself to a first career hat-trick of outstanding quality, yet give the impression they had not broken sweat.

There was absolutely no jeopardy for the 72,708-strong crowd at Old Trafford on Monday night but it was hardly Southgate or Saka's fault.

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Even with a rocket of a finish for his opening goal, a thumping volley after good control for the second and a super-cool matchball-clincher, Arsenal winger Saka still manages not to come across as flash at all – carrying the air of someone every non-Tottenham Hotspur-supporting dad but would be relieved to see on their daughter's arm.

EASY PICKINGS: Marcus Rashford (right) makes it 3-0 to England shortly before half-timeEASY PICKINGS: Marcus Rashford (right) makes it 3-0 to England shortly before half-time
EASY PICKINGS: Marcus Rashford (right) makes it 3-0 to England shortly before half-time

Saka became England's youngest hat-trick scorer since Theo Walcott in 2008, but it is hard to see a player with seven goals in his last eight internationals not making more of his great talent.

Saka made this straight-forward Euro 2024 qualifier noteworthy.

A sulphurous fug wafted across from the under-populated away end as the teams lined up for England's final game of the seemingly never-ending 2022-23 season but there was to be no revolution away from the Three Lions' usual home.

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Playing Trent Alexander-Arnold in a central midfield position he looks much better suited to than right-back was one thing but there was no repeat of John Stones's Manchester City role in the Barnsley player's first international outing since it started to take hold. He was often the deepest rather than the most advanced member of a back four under constant threat, but only from boredom.

ROCKET: England's Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring his side's second goalROCKET: England's Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring his side's second goal
ROCKET: England's Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring his side's second goal

Southgate likes to learn from other sports but as much as "Bazball" revels in recklessness, “Gazball” preaches patience. So England just worked the ball around waiting for gaps to open, taking 29 minutes to open the scoring with only their second shot on target, and watched their opponents crumble.

It was a million miles away from the white-knuckle ride Ben Stokes was putting the cricket fans through at Edgbaston but the reason why these Three Lions – steady accumulators, not sloggers – will not just be at another major international tournament, but are likely to be for quite a long time.

It took a while to realise the save Saka forced after 77 seconds was a sign of what was to come.

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Despite England having 70 per cent of the ball at that point, it would be nearly half an hour before they put it on target again, even with opposition captain Stefan Ristovski off for a lengthy period to have his head less bandaged, more mummified.

There was a casualness about the way two Manchester United players created the opener, Marcus Rashford taking his time before finding Luke Shaw with a nutmeg and the left-back picking out Harry Kane in space which suggested North Macedonia thought he was the least, not most prolific Three Lions goalscorer of all time.

Needless to say, he swept in and with the annoying low sun England were playing towards finally dipping below the top of the Stretford End, everything looked a lot easier all of a sudden.

Jordan Henderson was unable to contort sufficiently around a Rashford pull-back four minutes later – Kane just behind might have had a better chance – but Saka was soon smashing in a second after Alexander-Arnold released Kyle Walker on the overlap.

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Good interplay by Harry Maguire, bombing on from centre-back, and Shaw from left-back, allowed Rashford to come in off the wing as Saka had and tap in a third just before half-time. By now it was all feeling rather easy.

It got easier still two minutes after the interval when Alexander-Arnold's first-time pass released Saka to control with his foot, then his chest before blasting a volley.

When Kane released him one-on-one in the 52nd minute, the finish could not have been calmer had the link-up been the other way around.

The substitutes flooded on – a triple change for the visitors, a quadruple for the hosts – but the goals did not dry up, Nikola Serafimov teeing up Leeds-born Kalvin Phillips for a welcome gift as he tried to cut out a Jack Grealish cross.

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Such is Kane's Midas touch that as Callum Wilson prepared to replace him, Egzon Bejtulai wrestled Stones to the ground so the striker's last touch was his 57th England goal and 20th successful penalty.

That was punishment enough. Just four games in, qualification for Germany is not yet inked in but it is certainly coming and Saka will be leading the way.

England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Alexander-Arnold, Rice (Phillips 58), Henderson (Gallagher 58); Saka (Foden 58), Kane (Wilson 72), Rashford (Grealish 58). Unused substitutes: Trippier, Ramsdale, Guehi, Mings, Maddison, Eze, Johnstone.North Macedonia: Dimitrievski; Ristovski, Velkovski, Zajkov (Serafimov 58), Alioski; Ademi (Atanasov 58), Bardhi (David Babunski 67); Ashkovski, Elmas, Trajkovski (Dorian Babunski 58); Nestorovski. Unused substitutes: Bejtulai, Iliev, Manev, Doriev, Elezi, Ristovski, Dimoski, Shishkovski.Referee: I Kovacs (Romania)