England are a new animal as Bukayo Saka and 'Gazball' blow North Macedonia away

If this is Gazball then the wait has definitely been worth it. The same exciting, risk-taking reliance on raw talent that has been baked into the England cricket team under Brendon McCullum, with extra nutmeg. 

It was a triumphant return to the stadium that was home to what was supposed to be England’s Golden Generation. The team of world-class individuals under Sven Goran Eriksson who failed ultimately to show their full talent in an era of just limited success while Wembley was being rebuilt.

Now, though, something really seems to have clicked. The fear of not living up to expectations has been replaced by a desire to raise them higher and higher. Literally nothing is considered impossible for these young men - which is precisely how a proud and robust footballing nation was brought to its knees.

And North Macedonia are no Malta. Monday night’s visitors only narrowly missed out on the World Cup in Qatar, stumbling against Portugal at the final hurdle in a disappointing end to a campaign that included away wins in Germany and Italy.

England had never previously managed to beat them on their home turf in the country’s previous incarnation as just Macedonia - either during Eriksson’s reign or shortly after. Tonight would be their biggest defeat ever against anybody. But then the Macedonians had never faced this England before.

Man of the match Bukayo Saka set the tone by skipping past three players to fire in the first shot on target within 90 seconds. As it was, it took nearly half an hour to break resistance, but the moment was all the better for the wait.

Kane swept the ball into the back of the net for his fourth in four games and Luke Shaw gets the “assist” for the bobbly, deflected cross that teed him up. Statisticians don’t tend to count the pass before that, but the whole of Old Trafford knew exactly what word to use for Marcus Rashford’s clever nutmeg to pick out his United team-mate. Magic.

As it happened, England were just embarking upon a full thesaurus of adjectives. Trent Alexander-Arnold, reprising his successful midfield role from Malta, found Kyle Walker on the overlap and when he picked out Bukayo Saka his drive into the roof of the net from a tight angle was exuberant.

Not to be outdone, Rashford engineered a one-two with Harry Maguire of all people - this is Gazball, remember - but then fluffed his shot, hitting it straight at Stole Dimitrievski from close range. Luckily there was still time before the break for Kane to pounce on a loose pass, put in Jordan Henderson and he in turn set up Rashford for a more simple tap-in, which the United star duly took.

In the past England performances tend to have fizzled out after half-time. Not Gazball. Alexander-Arnold’s incredible passing range was showcased with the way he picked out Saka two minutes into the second half but it was nothing compared to the exquisite finish the Arsenal player produced from the edge of the area for the goal of the night.

Kane, too, can pick a pass and Saka was again the beneficiary with a far more run-of-the-mill finish to complete a well-deserved hat-trick. It was at this point that Southgate brought on Jack Grealish and Phil Foden.

Clearly the former was still in party mood, supplying the cross which caused mayhem in the North Macedonia box and rewarded Kalvin Phillips for a rare dash into the box with a tap-in for his first England goal.

The somewhat prosaic manhandling of John Stones from a corner gave Kane the opportunity to add the seventh from the spot. He smacked his kick into the back of the net. That missile launched nervously so far over the bar in Qatar just six months ago now seems such a long time ago.

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