Harry Kane answered his critics with a first-half, perfect hat-trick as England moved to the brink of World Cup qualification with a thumping 5-0 win over Albania at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate’s side now need just a point from Monday’s trip to San Marino to book their place at Qatar 2022.
With last month’s disappointing draw at home to Hungary fresh in the memory and Albania third in the group, there was potential for this Friday night Qualifier to be a nervy one for England, but a stunning five-goal blitz in the opening 45 minutes blew their opposition away.
Kane (18, 33, 45+2) put his Premier League struggles to one side and feasted on some woeful defending from the visitors to become England’s all-time top scorer in competitive matches, and, although he could have scored as many as six in that first period, his stunning deflected scissor-kick for his third felt like an emphatic response after his early-season struggles for Tottenham.
Harry Maguire’s header (9) had set England on their way and Jordan Henderson (28) also grabbed his first Wembley goal to the delight of a sell-out national stadium during a remarkable first half, which also featured a scare at the other end when Kyle Walker’s awful back-pass forced Jordan Pickford to save brilliantly from Myrto Uzuni with the score at 1-0.
Unsurprisingly, the second half failed to live up the excitement of the first but it brought an international debut for Arsenal’s rising star Emile Smith Rowe. He will be dreaming of a place on the plane to Qatar next November but England supporters will already be booking their flights.
With Poland winning in Andorra, England need just a point away to San Marino, the world’s lowest-ranked side, on Monday to confirm their place at the World Cup.
More to follow…
What’s next and how to follow England’s World Cup Qualifiers
Follow San Marino vs England – England’s final World Cup Qualifier – on Monday (kick-off 7.45pm) with our live blogs, and watch free match highlights on the Sky Sports website and app, as well as the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel.
When and where is the 2022 World Cup?
The 2022 World Cup is taking place in Qatar in the winter months rather than the usual summer ones, due to the heat.
The tournament kicks off on Monday November 21 at the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor with a match that will feature the host country.
The final will be played at the Lusail Stadium in Doha a week before Christmas on Sunday December 18.
What is the World Cup format and schedule?
The tournament will feature 32 teams in eight groups of four.
Four matches will be played each day during the group stage, which will run over a 12-day period and see winners and runners-up progress to the round of 16.
Matches will only be assigned to particular venues after the finals draw, so organisers can choose optimal kick-off times to suit television audiences in different countries, as well as supporters out in Qatar.
The finals draw is scheduled to take place in April 2022, after the March window for international fixtures.
Unlike at Euro 2020, there will be a third-place play-off game on December 17.
Group stage: November 21- December 2
Round of 16: December 3-6
Quarter-finals: December 9/10
Semi-finals: December 13/14
Final: December 18
When will the matches kick off?
FIFA has confirmed the first two rounds of matches will kick off at 1pm, 4pm, 7pm and 10pm local time (10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm in the United Kingdom).
Kick-off times in the final round of group games and knock-out round matches will be at 6pm and 10pm local time (3pm and 7pm UK time).
The final is scheduled to kick off at 6pm local time (3pm UK time)
What are the venues?
The group games will take place across eight stadia: Al Bayt Stadium, Khalifa International Stadium, Al Thumama Stadium, Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Lusail Stadium, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, Education City Stadium, Al Janoub Stadium.
What happens to the Premier League in 2022/23?
The Premier League has confirmed key dates for the 2022/23 campaign, with the season adjusted to accommodate a World Cup that takes place in the middle of the domestic calendar.
The season will start a week earlier than normal on August 6 2022, with 16 matchdays taking place up to the weekend of November 12/13, before the tournament kicks off on November 21.
The Premier League will resume on Boxing Day following the World Cup final, which takes place on December 18.
The final match round of the 2022/23 season will be played on May 28 2023.