Bukayo Saka scored a hattrick to help England produce one of the high-scoring football results of the weekend in Euro 2024 qualifying. The Arsenal forward scored twice, the first from a difficult angle and the second two minutes into the second half after collecting a wonderful feed from Trent Alexander-Arnold. Then, as England destroyed their opponents, he finished off his first career hat trick with a stylish finish after making a perfectly timed run in behind the defense. It wasn’t until Harry Kane converted Luke Shaw’s cutback that things started to go Gareth Southgate’s team’s way against North Macedonia, a squad that defeated Italy in their World Cup play-off last year.
Marcus Rashford concluded an outstanding first half for England with a close-range strike to score an international goal on his home pitch shortly after Saka shot into the roof of the net. Saka’s two goals at the beginning of the second half had England’s fans jumping, but there was still more to celebrate when Kalvin Phillips scored his first goal in international competition and Harry Kane added a second from the spot after John Stones was fouled at a set-piece. The offensive Bazball style of England’s cricket team has garnered praise, but the country’s football team has been using Gazball, and as a result, they have four victories out of four in qualifying and are on track to compete in the tournament in Germany next summer.
Although qualification for Euro 2024 is not certain, England leads second-placed Ukraine by six points after playing half of their games, despite having a game in hand, and third-placed Italy has only played twice due to their obligations to the Nations League during this window. However, Southgate will be most pleased with a positive, assured, and cohesive performance from his squad at the conclusion of a protracted campaign that started with him and the team being harshly criticised and cast in question following disappointing results last summer. A typical World Cup quarterfinal defeat hurt, but this team’s promise is obvious, and its supporters will be dreaming of victory in a year.
While a repetition of last year’s humiliating 4-0 loss to Hungary at home appeared unlikely this time around, North Macedonia had been touted as a considerable step up from Friday’s opponents Malta, which they demonstrated to be throughout the early going. Southgate’s team only had a few half-chances, with a Saka shot being stopped, a Stones header going wide, and Rashford’s cross-shot being saved by keeper Stole Dimitrievski after a collision with Kane momentarily removed North Macedonia captain Stefan Ristovski from the play due to blood loss.
The game was going according to plan for the visitors, who had drew from both of their prior visits to these shores as the halfway point drew near. However, the Man Utd link-up between Shaw and Rashford down the left side of the pitch allowed for an opening in the defense, which allowed Kane to score the sixth consecutive international goal. The gates of hell opened. Kyle Walker found Saka in the area after some good play on the opposite side of the field, and with a rocket of a finish, Saka gave the custodian no chance. After Harry Maguire’s swift run shortly after, Rashford could have made it three, but he didn’t flinch when Jordan Henderson gave him a similar chance on the verge of halftime.
Although Saka still had plenty of work to do when he took a touch, chested it up, and then slammed the ball in from 18 yards with his left foot, Alexander-Arnold demonstrated that his midfield role is here to stay with another exquisite pass for England’s third goal. After Kane’s well-weighted through ball set him up for his third goal, it was a wonderful moment for the 21-year-old as he proudly displayed the match ball at the end of the game.
North Macedonia may have been relieved to see him replaced moments later, but the assault continued. Phillips scored when a cross from replacement Jack Grealish broke to him and went into the goal, giving him a sweet moment in a city where he has won many team awards but has so far struggled to score on his own since his high-profile transfer from Leeds. Before the bombardment eventually came to a stop, Kane’s skillfully taken penalty – his 58th goal for his nation – after Stones was pulled down resulted to England’s seventh goal.
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