England celebrated their 1,000th game with a procession at Wembley last night.
The qualifying campaign for the Three Lions’ 25th major tournament has been an incredibly easy one for them.
Only once, when they were surprisingly beaten in the Czech Republic, have they scored less than four goals. Harry Kane, who helped himself to a hat-trick last night, has found the net in every game.
Even with Gareth Southgate deciding to drop his best player, Raheem Sterling, over a canteen bust-up with Joe Gomez, this game was so one-sided. Rarely have guests at a party been so gracious as Montenegro, allowing the youngest England XI in 60 years as much time and space as they wanted to score their goals. In the end, they settled for seven.
Montenegro’s haplessness was best summed up by goal number six, Rashford’s shot from a tight angle kept out by a combination of Milan Mijatovic and Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount making a mess of the rebound and Aleksandar Sofranac emphatically booting the ball into his own net as if frustrated by England toying with his side.
Some of the old-timers back for the celebrations must have been thinking they retired too early.
If it was possible to come away with a frustration, it is that we have absolutely no idea how well prepared the 2018 World Cup semi-finalists are for next year’s European Championships. The good news is that they will be back at Wembley three times in June for group games, and the semi-final and final will also take place there. There have not been enough big-game highlights across the 1,000 games, but quiet a few have been at the north London cathedral.
When Ernest Greenhalgh played in England’s first international, in 1872, he really was a full-back. His job was holding the fort while his seven forwards (negative cagey Scotland played a 2-2-6 formation) strutted their stuff. England could have played with a back one for old time’s sake last night and it would not have made a difference.
It is fair to say the game has changed a bit in the subsequent 147 years, and the Three Lions’ full-backs created all five goals in their first-half cakewalk, Ben Chilwell making three inside 25 minutes.
The Leicester City left-back shifted the ball inside before playing the pass which allowed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to drive his first goal since Scotland in 2017. Kane cushioned a header from Chilwell’s 19th-minute cross to double the lead.
England were already in party mood, Rashford showing off a nutmeg, then having a shot saved with a backheel. He won the corner from which Chilwell picked out Kane for his second goal.
Then it was right-back Alexander-Arnold’s turn, crossing for Harry Maguire, back in tandem with fellow Yorkshireman John Stones at the heart of the defence.
When the Sheffield man’s header was saved, Rashford pounced.
Having hit an optimistic long-range effort for his hat-trick wide, Kane secured the matchball after just 38 minutes.
When Alexander-Arnold put the ball in, he produced a “see you later” touch to leave himself the easy task of becoming England’s highest-scoring captain.
Not that it was perfect from Southgate’s side. Only needing a draw to qualify, perhaps it was a bit too easy, which might explain why Jordan Pickford had to pull off two first-half saves to keep out Marko Simic’s header and then deny Fatos Beciraj.
Early in the second half James Maddison had the honour of becoming England’s 1,245th international footballer, while Tammy Abraham won his fourth cap. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kane had certainly earned their rests.
Despite Sofranac’s best efforts, the second half was the kind of non-event international friendlies so often are, the 77,127-strong crowd more interested in the progress of their Mexican waves than the football in front of them.
Shortly after failing to divert Alexander-Arnold’s thumped shot inside the post, Abraham slid onto a Sancho cross for his first and probably not his last international goal.
Southgate’s England have already made memories to rank alongside some of the best from 1,000 matches.
This second generation of his look like they have more in them but we will only really know on June 14 next year at the earliest.
England: Pickford; Alexander-Arnold, Stones, Maguire, Chilwell; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Maddison 57), Winks, Mount (Gomez 70); Sancho, Kane (Abraham 57), Rashford. Unused substitutes: Trippier, Pope, Rose, Mings, Tomori, Rice, Hudson-Odoi, Wilson, Henderson.
Montenegro: Mijatovic; Vesovic, Sofranac, Simic, Radunovic (Raspopovic 46); Hocko, Lagator, Vukcevic; Jovovic (Jankovic 65), Haksabanovic (Boljevic 74); Beciraj. Unused substitutes: Petkovic, Kopitovic, Mugosa, Sekulic, Vujacic, Kojasevic, Bulatovic.
Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz (Spain)