Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka scored as England carried out the most professional of victories over Ukraine to take control of their Euros qualifying group.
Gareth Southgate told his players that Thursday’s impressive 2-1 victory at Euro 2020 conquerors Italy could only be considered a fantastic result if they followed it up with another win at Wembley.
England did not disappoint in their first home match since reaching the World Cup quarter-finals as Kane and Saka struck late in the first half to seal a 2-0 triumph against Ukraine.
It was the perfect return from their toughest-looking Euro 2024 double-header, meaning Southgate’s side are already well placed to progress from a group completed by North Macedonia and Malta.
England are expected to get maximum points against those nations in June, when Kane could add a flurry to his national team scoring record that stands at 55 after his first-half opener.
The skipper, who was presented with a commemorative golden boot for his historic strike in Naples, fired in after meeting a fine cross by Saka, who went onto score a superb effort three minutes later.
The 21-year-old’s fantastic 20-yard curler was his eighth international goal and all but ended this Group C clash a contest.
Given England’s struggles after half-time in Italy and an already-depleted squad being further diminished by Phil Foden needing appendix surgery on Sunday morning, Southgate will not mind the largely forgettable second half here.
Ahead of the game both sets of players posed with a Ukrainian flag that read ‘peace’ in a show of solidarity as the country continues to fight invading Russia.
More than 1,000 displaced Ukrainians and their host families were invited to the match as special guests of the Football Association.
The 4,200-strong away contingent were in fine voice from the outset but there was a collective early gasp when Kane rose to his feet claiming for a penalty following a clumsy Oleksandr Svatok challenge.
The defender got away with that and somehow avoided a card for a poor challenge on Jude Bellingham midway through the first half – a tackle checked by the VAR for a possible red card.
Ukraine goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin was also relieved having botched a seemingly simple catch from a cross, with full debutant James Maddison adjudged to have fouled him when following in.
The visitors looked shaky and Kane unsurprisingly looked England’s biggest threat, with his movement proving problematic before opening the scoring in the 37th minute.
Kane spread the ball to Saka on the right and ran into the box, with winger swinging a left-footed cross that the England captain finished smartly at the far post under pressure from Oleksandr Karavaev.
Wembley was celebrating again three minutes later thanks to a moment of magic from Saka.
The Arsenal star collected a Jordan Henderson pass, spun away from pressure and got away a superb left-footed shot that curled past Trubin from 20 yards.
Bukayo Saka vs. Ukraine:
90 minutes played
1 shot on target
30 passes (76.9% accuracy)
3 key passes
2 big chances created
10 ground duels (8 won)
4 fouls won
Player of the match.🌟 pic.twitter.com/91wuv4XP1C
— Connor Humm (@TikiTakaConnor) March 26, 2023
The Ukraine goalkeeper prevented Kane from making matters worse for the visitors as a one-sided first half came to an end.
England returned from the break in cruise control, taking the sting out of proceedings three days on from a ragged second-half display nearly allowing Italy back into the match.
Maddison missed the target before Saka sent in a dangerous cross which Bellingham was unable to take advantage of, before the youngsters reversed roles with the same frustrating outcome.
Brentford striker Ivan Toney made his debut in place of Kane with nine minutes remaining at Wembley, where paper planes and Mexican waves seemed to provide fans with more entertainment than the football.
Fellow substitute Conor Gallagher was thwarted by Trubin before stoppage time provided two further chances for England, with Harry Maguire heading over before Jack Grealish was denied.