Harry Kane wanted to take his time, to revel in the moment and, after the season that he has had so far, who could blame him? The England captain walked over to Jordan Henderson, having watched his number go up in the 63rd minute and, with deliberate ceremony, transferred the armband to him. Then it was applause for all four corners of Wembley and a little trot towards the bench.
England were 5-0 up at the time, the goals having come during a first-half assault on the Albania goal, and Kane had three of them. He should have had more because the visitors gave a disaster-class in defending but he could be well pleased at his return, which served to slice through the latest round of scrutiny of him.
Kane had been poor in England’s 1-1 draw against Hungary here last month, albeit he was not alone, and everybody knows that he has had more managers at Tottenham this season (two) than he has Premier League goals (one).
This was much better, even if the paucity of the opposition had to be considered, Kane moving to 44 England goals from 66 appearances. Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 moves ever nearer. With Harry Maguire and Henderson scoring the others, England delighted the crowd of 80,366 and, in the process, all but wrapped up automatic qualification for the World Cup in Qatar.
It is not yet official because Poland are three points behind in the group and there is one round of ties to come. Yet England need only a point in San Marino on Monday to make it that way. Enough said.
Southgate had talked on Thursday of the reinvigorated connection between the country and team, illustrated by how general admission tickets had sold out well in advance of this fixture, and what everybody had wanted was a reaction to the Hungary game last month. How they got it.
The Hungary draw was scarred not only by crowd trouble but by a laboured display. Here Southgate reverted to a 3-4-3. Balance and solidity are everything. Moreover, it is players that make systems and Reece James, in as a marauding right wing-back – hell bent on bursting forward – illustrated the point. Pinned high up the flank, it was the in-form Chelsea player who drove the move that led to England’s second goal. He held off Lorenc Trashi on an eye-catching surge and, when the ball broke for Henderson, England were in business. Henderson swapped passes with Foden and his cross from the byline was perfect for Kane, who had dropped into space.
It was the prompt for England to enjoy themselves. They had led when Harry Maguire benefited from the first evidence that Albania’s defending was going to be generous to a fault, wandering unchallenged on to James’s free-kick to plant a header past Thomas Strakosha. Now they turned the screw.
Henderson looked anything but a screening midfielder and his goal for 3-0 was a beauty, working a give-and-go with Kane after good work from James and Foden, stepping inside Ardian Ismajli and dinking a left-foot finish back into the opposite corner.
Myrto Uzuni had blown a gilt-edged one-on-one for Albania in the 14th minute at 1-0, shooting too close to Jordan Pickford after Kyle Walker’s horror back pass, and it really was hard not to wince at their attempts to keep England at arm’s length.
It is no exaggeration to say that Kane could have had at least six before the interval, although he could be happy enough with the single hat-trick. His second and England’s fourth followed a pass from Raheem Sterling and a simple shoulder drop that opened up the space against the hapless Kastriot Dermaku, who had entered as an early substitute. He whipped the finish into the far corner.
Kane’s third came from a Foden corner, everybody – including Albania’s defenders – watching him wind up a scissor kick and make a nice connection, the ball deflected into the roof of the net off Dermaku. How was the ball allowed to drop without challenge?
Albania looked stunned and they were lucky that Kane had one side-foot effort blocked, dragged another chance just wide and sent a stooping header just past the post.
It was easy to remember how the year had started for England – with ghost games at Wembley in March, no fans for the ties against San Marino and Poland. They had formed part of the opening batch of World Cup qualifiers.
The huge crowd reinforced the shift back towards normality and there was a sizeable Albanian contingent within it, presumably watching through the gaps in their fingers. Their team had been physical at the outset, leaving a few markers on Kane & Co, but it was not long before they were chasing shadows. They were not helped by the losses of Keidi Bare and Marash Kumbulla to injuries inside the first 17 minutes.
The second half was predictably of lower intensity, notable mainly for Emile Smith Rowe getting on for his debut. Albania wanted to save face and they did so. England were not in the mood to deepen the humiliation.