Harry Kane answered his critics with a first-half, perfect hat-trick as England moved to the brink of World Cup qualification with a thumping 5-0 win over Albania at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate's side now need just a point from Monday's trip to San Marino, the world's lowest-ranked side, to book their place at Qatar 2022.
With last month's disappointing draw at home to Hungary fresh in the memory and Albania third in the group, there was potential for this Friday night Qualifier to be a nervy one for England, but a stunning five-goal blitz in the opening 45 minutes blew their opposition away.
Kane (18, 33, 45+2) put his Premier League struggles to one side and feasted on some woeful defending from the visitors to become England's all-time top scorer in competitive matches, and, although he could have scored as many as six in that first period, his stunning deflected scissor-kick for his third felt like an emphatic response after his early-season struggles for Tottenham.
Harry Maguire's header (9) had set England on their way and Jordan Henderson (28) also grabbed his first Wembley goal to the delight of a sell-out national stadium during a remarkable first half, which also featured a scare at the other end when Kyle Walker's awful back-pass forced Jordan Pickford to save brilliantly from Myrto Uzuni with the score at 1-0.
Unsurprisingly, the second half failed to live up to the excitement of the first but it brought an international debut for Arsenal's rising star Emile Smith Rowe. He will be dreaming of a place on the plane to Qatar next November but England supporters will already be booking their flights.
England player ratings
England: Pickford (7), Walker (6), Stones (6), Maguire (7), James (8), Henderson (8), Phillips (6), Chilwell (6), Foden (6), Kane (8), Sterling (7).
Subs used: Grealish (6), Bellingham (6), Abraham (5), Smith Rowe (6), Alexander-Arnold (6)
Man of the match: Harry Kane.
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How it happened...
With steady rain falling at kick-off, there was drama at both ends inside five minutes, with Raheem Sterling's appeals for a free-kick on the edge of the box remarkably ignored by referee Ruddy Buquet before Pickford clattered into Uzuni outside his box.
England team news
England made five changes to the side which drew 1-1 in their last World Cup Qualifier against Hungary, with Luke Shaw (concussion), Mason Mount (dental) and Declan Rice (illness) unavailable, while Tyrone Mings and Jack Grealish dropped to the bench.
As part of a switch to 3-4-3, in came wing-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell, centre back Harry Maguire, midfielder Jordan Henderson and attacker Phil Foden.
Albania were forceful in the challenge themselves, and Klaus Gjasula was rightly booked for a reckless tackle from behind on Kane - but England made them pay from the resulting free-kick, with Reece James' pinpoint delivery powered home by Maguire, whose own celebration appeared to be a message for his detractors.
That goal eased the nerves for the home side, with Phil Foden shooting over moments later, but Walker almost handed Albania an equaliser when his terrible back-pass was picked up by Uzuni. Pickford stood up well, though, and his superb one-on-one stop kept England ahead.
Albania - who had been forced into two early subs because of injuries - were regretting that missed opportunity just four minutes later, when Henderson stood his cross up for Kane to head home England's second.
Sterling almost broke through and Kane failed to convert from close range as the hosts turned up the heat, with Albania goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha parrying away a long-range effort from the captain before Maguire headed another set-piece over.
Albania's first-half resistance fell apart from there, though, with Henderson's one-two with Kane splitting the visitors' backline wide open for the Liverpool man to score his second international goal, before Kane produced a trademark hammered finish into the far corner five minutes later.
That goal took him past Wayne Rooney as England's top scorer in competitive games and, although he shot across the face of goal and then headed wide, he made it 39 in matches which matter in first-half stoppage time in acrobatic fashion from a corner.
Inevitably, the second half could not live up to the goal-fest of the first, with the supporters making their own entertainment with Mexican waves, and Southgate taking the opportunity to give Kane, Foden and Kalvin Phillips an early night.
He also used the opportunity to hand Smith Rowe a first cap following his late call-up to the squad but with England taking their foot off the gas there were only rare forays into the Albania box, with Sterling and sub Jack Grealish getting into dangerous areas.
For boss Southgate - who displayed his tactical flexibility with a switch to a back three and appears set to sign a two-year extension to his England contract - this was a satisfying night's work.
Assuming Monday's San Marino trip goes to plan, his attentions will soon be turning to how he can inspire his side to take one step further than they did at this summer's European Championships when they arrive in Qatar this time next year.
What the managers said:
England boss Gareth Southgate: "I thought it was a really strong team performance, particularly that first half. We had an edge about us tonight and we're at our best when we have an edge. We needed a collective response from our last game. We're clear why we felt we didn't get that performance [against Hungary] and we addressed that in the first half.
"What pleased me most about Kane tonight was his all-round performance. We know he's going to score goals. I liked the way he was aggressive in his hold up play, he was running in behind, his link play was on song tonight. He was helped by good movement around him from Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden in particular and the wing backs charging forward."
Albania boss Edoardo Reja: "We have to compliment England for their performance, they were fired up, determined, a strong physical team. Perhaps we were too arrogant in the set-up of the game and pressed them too high and left space. When you leave space for team like England you will concede goals."
Opta stats - Kane's huge goal haul
- England have scored 42 goals in 2021, their most ever in a calendar year, overtaking the 39 goals they scored in 1908.
- Harry Kane has now scored 39 goals in competitive matches for England, overtaking the previous record of 37 scored by Wayne Rooney.
- Harry Kane became the first player to score a perfect hat-trick (header, left-foot, right-foot) for England since David Platt in February 1993 against San Marino.
- Harry Kane has scored 12 goals for England in 2021 - no player has ever netted more for the Three Lions in a calendar year (George Hilsdon in 1908, Dixie Dean in 1927 and Kane in 2019 also scored 12).
- Harry Maguire scored his sixth goal for England, with five of those coming with his head. Only Harry Kane (12) and Raheem Sterling (5) have more goals in 2021 for the Three Lions than Maguire (4).
- Only Jimmy Greaves (six) and Gary Lineker (five) have scored more hat-tricks for England than Harry Kane (four), while Kane has gone level with Greaves in joint-fourth position on 44 goals in England's history.
- England's starting XI tonight had 451 caps between them, the most for an England starting XI under Gareth Southgate and most since September 2013 vs Ukraine (471).
Follow San Marino vs England - England's final World Cup Qualifier - on Monday (kick-off 7.45pm) with our live blogs, and watch free match highlights on the Sky Sports website and app, as well as the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel.
The 2022 World Cup is taking place in Qatar in the winter months rather than the usual summer ones, due to the heat.
The tournament kicks off on Monday November 21 at the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor with a match that will feature the host country.
The final will be played at the Lusail Stadium in Doha a week before Christmas on Sunday December 18.
The tournament will feature 32 teams in eight groups of four.
Four matches will be played each day during the group stage, which will run over a 12-day period and see winners and runners-up progress to the round of 16.
Matches will only be assigned to particular venues after the finals draw, so organisers can choose optimal kick-off times to suit television audiences in different countries, as well as supporters out in Qatar.
The finals draw is scheduled to take place in April 2022, after the March window for international fixtures.
Unlike at Euro 2020, there will be a third-place play-off game on December 17.
Group stage: November 21- December 2
Round of 16: December 3-6
Quarter-finals: December 9/10
Semi-finals: December 13/14
Final: December 18
When will the matches kick off?
FIFA has confirmed the first two rounds of matches will kick off at 1pm, 4pm, 7pm and 10pm local time (10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm in the United Kingdom).
Kick-off times in the final round of group games and knock-out round matches will be at 6pm and 10pm local time (3pm and 7pm UK time).
The final is scheduled to kick off at 6pm local time (3pm UK time)
What are the venues?
The group games will take place across eight stadia: Al Bayt Stadium, Khalifa International Stadium, Al Thumama Stadium, Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Lusail Stadium, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, Education City Stadium, Al Janoub Stadium.
The Premier League has confirmed key dates for the 2022/23 campaign, with the season adjusted to accommodate a World Cup that takes place in the middle of the domestic calendar.
The season will start a week earlier than normal on August 6 2022, with 16 matchdays taking place up to the weekend of November 12/13, before the tournament kicks off on November 21.
The Premier League will resume on Boxing Day following the World Cup final, which takes place on December 18.
The final match round of the 2022/23 season will be played on May 28 2023.