England claimed a comprehensive 4-0 victory in Hungary in their first match since the Euro 2020 final, taking a giant stride towards 2022 World Cup qualification.
Goals from Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Harry Maguire and Declan Rice gave the Three Lions a fourth win in four in this campaign as they aim to move on from July’s Wembley heartbreak against Italy.
An England side showing only one change from that penalty shoot-out defeat – Jack Grealish in for Kieran Trippier – dictated play in Budapest but had to bide their time.
Sterling took his chance early in the second half, though, and Gareth Southgate’s men were comfortable thereafter, the outing only marred by objects thrown from the home supporters during England’s celebrations as they moved five points clear at the top of Group I.
England had waited until the 50th minute for their first clear-cut opportunity, which Kane then uncharacteristically squandered, scuffing his finish and allowing Peter Gulacsi to block after an incisive Kyle Walker pass.
But the visitors soon carved Hungary open again and Sterling was less forgiving, steering into the bottom-right corner from Mason Mount’s cutback.
And there was no way back for Hungary when Mount and Sterling combined again and the latter’s driven cross deflected off Attila Szalai onto the head of Kane, who this time did not disappoint.
Gulacsi was able to deny Kane again as Grealish led a counter on the left, but the goalkeeper was less impressive moments later as Maguire’s header squirmed into the net, further rewarding a patient first-half performance.
A bizarre display from Gulacsi was complete when he recovered a tame Sterling finish after the forward had set up an open goal and then blocked once more from the profligate Kane, only to let Rice’s straightforward shot beneath him.
What does it mean? England still qualifying kings
Silverware continues to evade Southgate’s side, but they will continue to get chances at major tournaments thanks to their exemplary qualifying record.
This was one of the toughest fixtures in the pool on paper, yet England negotiated it expertly. They have now lost just one of their past 51 matches in qualifying for European Championships and World Cups, extending an unbeaten run in the latter to 25 games.
Sterling steers England to victory
Already England’s star performer in a frustrating first half, Sterling quickly took control of the second by scoring one and creating another within 18 minutes of the restart.
He was a nuisance throughout, contesting a team-high 12 duels – of which he won six – and keeping his cool as objects rained down on the England players after the opener.
Sterling had already celebrated with a t-shirt tribute to Jamaican socialite Steffie Gregg, who died this week.
Gifts from goalkeeper Gulacsi
Gulacsi made four saves and three of them were from Kane, repeatedly frustrating the England captain, even if he still found the net in a 13th consecutive qualifier.
But the keeper was at fault for goals from both Maguire and Rice, the latter’s chance worth just 0.043 expected goals but evading his clutches.
Key Opta Facts
– England have won all 14 matches in which Sterling has found the net, the best 100 per cent win ratio in matches scored in England’s entire history.
– Sterling has been directly involved in 16 goals in his past 11 qualifying matches for the Euros or World Cup (10 goals, six assists).
– In England’s history, only Gary Lineker under Bobby Robson (35 goals in 58 appearances) has ever netted more goals under a single manager than Kane has under Southgate (34 goals in 45 appearances).
– Rice became the first West Ham player to score for England in a World Cup qualifier since Trevor Brooking in June 1981, which was also against Hungary in Budapest in a 3-1 win.
– Hungary suffered their heaviest ever home defeat in a World Cup qualifier in what was their 118th such match.
England are back at home against Andorra on Sunday, with Southgate set to make changes from this full-strength XI. Hungary are at Albania on the same day.