LONDON: England’s serene progress towards Euro 2020 continued as captain Harry Kane grabbed a hat-trick in a 4-0 demolition of Bulgaria in Group A at Wembley on Saturday.
Kane opened the scoring after 24 minutes and struck home two penalties after the break as well as providing the assist for Raheem Sterling to get on the scoresheet.
The Tottenham Hotspur striker’s second hat-trick for his country took his tally to 25 goals from 40 appearances and put him ahead of 1966 World Cup final hero Geoff Hurst on the list of all-time England scorers.
Gareth Southgate’s side have now scored 14 goals in their opening three Group A games and lead the table with nine points from Kosovo (8) who beat the Czech Republic 2-1 earlier on.
England host Kosovo for the first time on Tuesday when another victory will leave them looking virtually assured of reaching next year’s tournament that culminates on home soil.
It was not a perfect display by England with Bulgaria having three good chances, one when the score was 0-0, but England proved far too strong as they left the visitors languishing at the bottom of the group with two points from five games.
“First half, we got caught on the counter a couple of times. We said at halftime we needed to try and come out and get an early goal and that’s what we’ve done,” Kane said.
“It’s a good result we hope to take into Tuesday.”
Bulgaria had never beaten England in 10 previous encounters, scoring only twice, and despite starting reasonably solidly and having the game’s first chance through naturalised Brazilian Wanderson, they were the architects of their own downfall.
The expected home onslaught had failed to materialise in the opening quarter but England were gifted the lead.
Southgate would have been concerned by some slackness in his defence and Galin Ivanov wasted a great chance to head his side level when he was picked out by Ivelin Popov’s cross.
Shortly after the break Wanderson was played in and his fierce effort from a tight angle was saved by Jordan Pickford.
Stung, England immediately counter-attacked and Marcus Rashford was sent clear and as he turned back inside in the area he was tripped by the sliding Nikolay Bodurov.
Kane dispatched the penalty with ease and six minutes later he teed up Sterling to score off his thigh from close range.
With the points in the bag England sent on Chelsea youngster Mason Mount for his debut while Jadon Sancho also got some game time as he replaced Sterling with 20 minutes left.
Kane was also given a breather but not before he had earned and converted his second penalty in the 73rd minute after being hacked down by Bulgaria substitute Kristian Dimitrov.
Kosovo have emerged as the unlikely closest challengers to England in the group and will arrive at Wembley in good heart after goals from Vedat Muriqi and Mergim Vojvoda secured their victory over the Czechs in the day’s other Group A game.
Patrik Schick had put the Czechs ahead.