England successfully completed their UEFA U21 EURO Finals qualifying campaign unbeaten with a crushing 5-0 victory over Albania at Molineux.
Callum Hudson-Odoi opened the scoring early on, before James Justin and full debutant Jamal Musiala added to England’s advantage in a wholly one-sided first half.
England MU21s 5-0 Albania
2021 U21 EURO qualifier
7.25pm, Tuesday 17 November
Record England U21 goalscorer Eddie Nketiah made it 4-0 at the start of the second half, and although the Arsenal man had a penalty saved, he successfully doubled his tally late on.
Aidy Boothroyd’s charges finish ten points clear at the top of Group 3 with nine wins and one draw, and will hope to replicate such form at the finals in Hungary and Slovenia that begin in March.
Following a moment of applause to remember ex-England player and coach Ray Clemence, the hosts dominated possession in the early stages as Albania showed their intent to sit deep and play on the counter.
Albion Marku delivered a wicked ball into the box as England were given an early glimpse of their opponents’ threat, but the Young Lions went straight down the other end to take a fifth-minute lead through Hudson-Odoi.
The Chelsea star picked the ball up in space on the left before running at Marku and cutting in on his right foot, delivering a shot that escaped the clutches of visiting goalkeeper Marco Molla.
Musiala gradually worked his way into the game and showcased his talents in the 14th minute, evading two defenders with some dazzling footwork before losing control as he charged into the away area.
Five minutes later skipper Nketiah had a golden chance to double England’s lead when Ernest Muçi was caught in possession by Tom Davies after a poor throw from Molla, but the 21-year-old dragged his quick-fire effort wide of the mark.
Nketiah was guilty of another tame effort moments later, and he then headed wide from Lee Buchanan’s free-kick as he continued his determined search for a 15th U21 goal.
But England made their dominance tell in the 26th minute, with Buchanan driving through the Albania defence before delivering a fizzing ball that travelled all the way to fellow full-back Justin, who clinically finished at the back post to make it 2-0.
Davies tried his luck from 20 yards but shot high and wide, and Hudson-Odoi forced a save from Molla as he went looking for another goal to add to his tally with little over half-an-hour on the clock.
And Boothroyd’s men did grab a third ten minutes before half-time, the lively Musiala starting the move on the right before playing a clever one-two with Oliver Skipp and finishing smartly past Molla, making it a night to remember for the 17-year-old.
It looked like Nketiah had got in on the act with a fourth for England only for his 40th-minute strike to be ruled out for offside, but England remained firmly on top before the referee called time on the first half.
Josef Bursik was called into action for the first real time shortly after the break as he palmed away a deflected shot, and moments later Nketiah eventually got the goal that his performance warranted.
A mistake from replacement defender Angelo Ndrecka gifted a chance to the former Leeds loanee at close-range, and Nketiah poked home past Molla to put the game to bed with just shy of 40 minutes to play.
England were awarded a penalty when Nketiah was felled by Molla after being slipped in by substitute Curtis Jones, but the goalkeeper recovered from his mistake to deny the captain a second goal ten minutes from time.
Ben Godfrey and Ben Wilmot had chances to add further gloss to the scoreline from corners in the dying stages of the contest, before Nketiah made amends for his penalty miss with England’s fifth to wrap up a comfortable win.
Callum Hudson-Odoi said: “I knew if we could get at the defenders and keep causing problems the chances would open up to score goals. I got the first and I think we were in control of the game.
“As soon as I hit it I knew it was going in, the keeper helped me a bit but I’ll take any goal as it comes and I’m really pleased to be back on the scoresheet tonight.
“I think the new boys have come in and played superbly. Jamal [Musiala] did really well to get his goal and I think Lee [Buchanan] did really well to get his assist. As soon as they came in I wanted to make sure they felt welcome in the team, and I’m really happy for them.
“We’ll all go back to our clubs now and try to produce our best form, to do what we can to get our place in the team and keep it ahead of next year.”
England: 22 Josef Bursik (Stoke City, on loan at Doncaster Rovers), 12 Ben Wilmot (Watford), 4 Ben Godfrey (Everton), 17 Lloyd Kelly (AFC Bournemouth), 18 James Justin (Leicester City), 23 Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich), 16 Oliver Skipp (Tottenham Hotspur, on loan at Norwich City), 6 Tom Davies (Everton), 14 Lee Buchanan (Derby County), 10 Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea), 9 Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal) (C)
Substitutes: 7 Curtis Jones (Liverpool) for Musiala 61’, 8 Conor Gallagher (Chelsea, on loan at West Bromwich Albion) for Hudson-Odoi 61’, 20 Josh Dasilva (Brentford) for Skipp 76’, 21 Dwight McNeil (Burnley) for Buchanan 76’
Unused substitutes: 1 Aaron Ramsdale (Sheffield United), 2 Tariq Lamptey (Brighton and Hove Albion), 3 Jonathan Panzo (Dijon), 13 Brandon Austin (Tottenham Hotspur)
Head coach: Aidy Boothroyd
Goals: Hudson-Odoi 5’, Justin 26’, Musiala 36’, Nketiah 52’, 86'
Caution: Nketiah 90’