Harry Kane the lethal Lion for England against Lithuania
It took daring debutant Harry Kane just 80 seconds to make his mark in a senior England shirt, as the Three Lions moved six points clear at the top of Group E, after an emphatic 4-0 Euro 2016 qualifying victory against Lithuania.
Second half substitute Kane, treated to a heroes welcome by Wembley, grabbed the last goal with a perfectly timed far-post header. However, if fans were disappointed not to see the Spurs striker start, any grumbles should have been eased by England’s thrilling forward three of Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck.
Deployed in a 4-3-3 formation, the Three Lions got off to a flying start, as Wayne Rooney struck the first of England’s fantastic four after just six minutes on the clock.
Dynamic Welbeck’s directness and dangerous bursts into the box were a constant feature of this game, and skipper Rooney was the first to profit, heading home a fortuitous rebound after his strike partner’s shot was palmed away.
It was midfield maestro Michael Carrick, who only recently returned to the England fold, that created havoc for the opener with a characteristically probing pass. The 33-year-old’s influence was certainly felt, and the composed anchorman will hopefully play a part again against Italy.
Rooney now moves within two goals of all-time England top scorer Sir Bobby Charlton, and was unlucky not to equal the Manchester United legend’s record, after hitting woodwork twice.
England’s thrilling start soon tapered off, however, as Lithuania unfortunately offered very little going forward, instead preferring to keep most of their men behind the ball.
Although intricate England impressed and were always in control, they in truth faced very little resistance, as the visitors made just a handful of breaks forward, with Eredivisie fullback Vytautas Andriuskevicius’s deflected cross perhaps the best of the bunch.
Rapid Welbeck eventually reaped the rewards of his endeavors just a minute before the break, after his scrappy header deflected off Lithuania captain Tadas Kijanskas’s thigh to make it 2-0. The Arsenal attacker may be far from prolific for his club, but is now the leading marksman in Euro 2016 qualifying, with six strikes in five outings.
The Three Lions were fluid again after half time, picking up the tempo immediately, with Rooney, Sterling and Welbeck continuing to link up well.
Not to be outdone by his partners, Sterling provided his usual trickery in spades and, although this may get buried underneath the ‘Hurri-Kane’ headlines, also broke his own senior international duck. The Liverpool speedster showed great movement and anticipation to meet Rooney’s perfect low cross, and prodded home with aplomb.
With England secure, Roy Hodgson opted to bring on both Ross Barkley and Kane, though the duo had to wait patiently on the sidelines for some time before replacing Jordan Henderson and Rooney respectively.
It was a poignant moment as poacher Kane swapped places with the skipper, but Wembley’s buzz was justified as the Tottenham predator grabbed a simple goal to mark a brilliant bow, after Sterling’s quick feet left Lithuania’s backline bamboozled.
England were in cruise control after that, and minnows Lithuania, who perhaps understandably seemed to arrive with damage limitation in mind, will leave disappointed.
The central European side may be sat in fourth spot but are still in contention to qualify, although it should be concerning that Steau Bucharest stopper Giedrius Arlauskis was easily the visitors’ best player on the pitch, despite conceding four.
A vicious Fabian Delph volley gave Arlauskis his moment of glory, as the custodian pulled off a tricky save to deny the Aston Villa midfielder, which cannot have done the soon-to-be free agent’s chances of a summer move any harm.
Meanwhile, although England took an important three points at Wembley, it felt more like a warm-up game. The real challenge will surely come in Turin against Italy. That duel may be a friendly, but any praise for this promising side should wait until after the Azzurri acid test.