MANCHESTER — Bukayo Saka scored a hat-trick as England continued their impressive march towards Euro 2024 with a 7-0 thrashing of North Macedonia at Old Trafford yesterday.
Saka has become an indispensable part of Gareth Southgate’s side since starring at the World Cup and took his tally to seven goals in his last eight internationals to round off a brilliant season for the Arsenal winger.
Harry Kane also scored twice, while Marcus Rashford and Kalvin Phillips were on target as the Three Lions maintained a 100 per cent record in qualifying after four games.
“This is a feeling I can’t really put into words. I’m just so happy,” said Saka.
“It was a really special display we put out there. They couldn’t really handle us.”
England move six points clear of Ukraine at the top of Group C and nine clear of Italy, who have two games in hand, with the top two set to qualify.
Despite a mammoth season lasting into the middle of June, Southgate took no chances as he named arguably his strongest available side.
The England manager was rewarded with another display full of attacking verve and imagination that made light of concerns over fatigue after a long campaign.
“The quality of the play was good and the finishing was ruthless,” said Southgate. “For the players to have the mentality they have to work, at the late stage of this monster of all seasons. There was every excuse not to do that and they’ve not done that.
“There were boys coming back from the biggest week of their lives professionally. We had boys who had two weeks on the beach and could have approached that differently but I think what we are trying to build was apparent for everyone tonight.”
Kane opened the scoring as he netted for the sixth consecutive international to stretch his lead as England’s all-time record goalscorer.
Rashford released Manchester United teammate Luke Shaw down the left and his cross picked out Kane to fire into the roof of the net and open the floodgates just before the half-hour mark.
Good work from Kyle Walker and Trent Alexander-Arnold then teed up Saka to blast in from a narrow angle on his weaker right foot.
Rashford got his goal at his home ground by tapping home Jordan Henderson’s cross for his 21st goal at Old Trafford this season to make it 3-0 at half-time.
Southgate has followed Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp’s lead in pushing Alexander-Arnold forward into a midfield role rather than starting at right-back.
With the number 10 on his back, Alexander-Arnold displayed his wonderful vision with a pinpoint pass over the top of the Macedonian defence for Saka, who smashed an unstoppable effort into the top corner two minutes into the second period.
Saka then completed his first career hat-trick as this time Kane’s precise pass opened the visitors up.
Phillips was introduced as one of four changes and had an easy task of tapping into an empty net when Jack Grealish’s cross was deflected into his path.
Callum Wilson was waiting on the touchline ready to replace Kane when John Stones was hauled down for a penalty 17 minutes from time.
But the England captain made sure of his 58th international goal before departing as he blasted the spot-kick high past Dimitrievski.
The Three Lions are already well on their way to Germany next summer and on this evidence are the side to beat in 12 months’ time. — AFP