England made it a perfect 10 wins out of 10 in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign as they completed the road to France with a 3-0 defeat of Lithuania on Monday.
Roy Hodgson’s side had long since booked their place in next year’s tournament, but they were keen to finish with an impressive 100 percent record before focusing on the December draw for the finals.
And even with an under-strength team, there was never any doubt England would do just that after Everton midfielder Ross Barkley opened the scoring midway through the first half at the LFF Stadium.
Lithuania goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis unluckily deflected Harry Kane’s shot into his own net for the second and Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struck after the interval to seal the stroll.
England are just the sixth team to win all of their matches in a European Championship qualifying campaign.
It is also the first time England have gone through qualification, in its current format, without dropping a point.
Spain were the last team to achieve a 100 percent qualification record in the Euros en route to winning the 2012 tournament.
But, despite being unbeaten in 15 matches, the low standard of their Group E opposition means Hodgson’s team are still something of an unknown quantity and have plenty to prove before they can dream of emulating Spain’s achievement.
“This is an achievement. I am very proud of the players’ performances,” Hodgson said.
“I thought we were excellent, in the first half especially. There was a lot of hard work put in.
“The quality of play was good and 10 wins out of 10 is very satisfying. We’ve got to take a lot of pride in that.”
Although it was a smooth night on the pitch, the English FA will be concerned by a brief outbreak of crowd trouble before kick-off as England supporters at one end of the stadium traded punches with their Lithuania rivals.
With top seeding and qualification as group winners already confirmed, Hodgson selected an unfamiliar side that the generous would politely label as experimental rather than severely weakened.
Stoke City’s Jack Butland started in goal three years after his last cap and Jonjo Shelvey, Jamie Vardy, Kyle Walker and stand-in captain Phil Jagielka also featured among eight changes from Friday’s 2-0 win over Estonia.
– Vast potential –
Initially, England’s reserves seemed troubled by the slippery surface and the bounce of the ball, but they soon found their footing.
Kane’s stinging strike from the edge of the penalty area was pushed onto a post by Arlauskis, who kept out another effort from the Tottenham Hotspur striker moments later.
Kane forced Arlauskis into action again with a long-range shot that had the Watford ‘keeper sprawling to his right to save.
England’s pressure was rewarded in the 29th minute when Barkley took possession 20 yards from goal, cut inside his marker and, from a central position, unloaded a fierce strike that took a deflection off Tomas Mikuckis’s back and looped past Arlauskis.
The 21-year-old’s latest demonstration of his vast potential was a reminder he could yet force his way into Hodgson’s first-choice XI.
And, after Butland made a good stop to deny Lukas Spalvis, it was Kane’s turn to underline his credentials in the 35th minute.
Playing a one-two with Adam Lallana, Kane surged into a dangerous position and hammered a rasping effort that hit the near post and rebounded into the net off the diving Arlauskis’s head.
England remained well on top after the break and Arlauskis had to make smart stops to repel a shot from Kane, who then fluffed the rebound, and a Barkley header.
Liverpool forward Danny Ings came on for his England debut and Tottenham youngster Dele Alli was introduced for his second international appearance.
But it was Oxlade-Chamberlain who had the last word when he took Walker’s pass and fired into the roof of the net in the 62nd minute.
Photo Credits : AFP