Ross Barkley was involved in three of England’s six goals in Sofia, while Olivier Giroud came off the bench to score and help France to a point as both nations took one step closer to qualification for Euro 2020.
Gareth Southgate made five changes from Friday’s defeat to Czech Republic, a first qualifying loss in over 10 years for the Three Lions, and Barkley was one of those to benefit with a place in the starting 11 for the trip to Bulgaria. Mason Mount dropped to the bench alongside fellow Chelsea Academy graduates Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham.
It took just seven minutes for the visitors to break the deadlock and Barkley claimed the assist, although in truth the goal owed much more to the finesse of Marcus Rashford, who rifled his finish past the goalkeeper from a narrow angle.
Barkley, wearing the number 10 shirt for his country, then notched twice in 12 minutes to effectively put the group game to bed by the half-hour mark. His first was a simple finish from a few yards out at the end of a slick move involving Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, though the timing of his run from midfield to make the six-yard box was commendable.
It was another darting run into the box that proved central to his second, with the midfielder stooping low to head in Kane’s teasing cross from the right for his sixth England goal. Sterling then made it 4-0 in stoppage time before the break but the half had been dogged by frequent racist abuse directed at England players from the home supporters.
The game was paused twice as England followed UEFA’s three-step protocol for reporting in-game incidents of abuse, with no further issues evident in the second half. After the match, the FA confirmed in a statement that ‘players were subjected to abhorrent racist chanting’ and called for UEFA to investigate as a matter of urgency.
Football’s importance seemed to fade in significance thereafter, though England remained professional and further goals from Sterling then Kane wrapped up a big scoreline in the Balkans. Mount picked up his fourth cap with 18 minutes remaining, replacing Barkley. The win leaves Southgate’s side top of Group A in the knowledge that a win over Montenegro next month at Wembley in the 1000th England international will secure their qualification to next summer’s finals.
France are also closing in on a place at the European Championships but Les Bleus were held in Paris by a Turkey side who are matching them every step of the way in Group H. The two sides remain locked on 19 points each after the 1-1 draw at the Stade de France, with Turkey’s superior head-to-head record placing them as group leaders with two matches remaining.
Giroud started on the bench alongside Kurt Zouma and N’Golo Kante, the latter having suffered an injury in the warm-up in Iceland on Friday night, though the striker was called upon by manager Didier Deschamps with 72 minutes on the clock and his impact was swift as he headed in a corner to make it 1-0.
However, the advantage lasted just six minutes before Dusseldorf defender Kaan Ayhan restored parity and kept Turkey in the Group H driving seat. Iceland also still hold out hope of a top-two finish as they sit four points behind the group leaders.
The results mean just Belgium, Italy, Russia, Poland and Ukraine have so far confirmed their places at the final tournament next summer, which takes place across 12 cities in 12 different countries.
At the younger age groups
At the Under-21 age group, Billy Gilmour featured throughout Scotland’s useful 0-0 draw away in Czech Republic. The Scots are unbeaten in European Championship qualification and currently sit top of a group also containing Greece, Croatia and Lithuania.
Tariq Lamptey started for England at Under-20 level as Keith Downing’s side conceded three second-half goals in defeat to Czech Republic in the Elite League. The Londoner lined up at right-back in a game played in front of over 6,000 supporters at Peterborough United’s London Road. The result leaves England with five points from four games played.
In the same competition, Juan Castillo played the first half as Netherlands Under-20s beat their Polish counterparts 2-1. The wideman is currently on loan in his homeland with Ajax.
Thierno Ballo was involved from the start as Austria Under-19s went a man down and then conceded twice either side of the interval to lose 2-0 to Wales in Newport. It was the second meeting between the sides in four days, with the Austrians 3-1 victors last week.
George Nunn started up front for Republic of Ireland Under-19s but the 17-year-old was unable to prevent the Irishmen falling to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Denmark.
Levi Colwill played the full game for England Under-17s as the young Lions were denied a victory against Spain courtesy of a last-minute equaliser. The 16-year-old lined up in defence for Kevin Betsy’s side, who led for much of the contest in Murcia before a late leveller from the hosts. Schoolboy forward Samuel Iling-Junior was a second-half introduction and Luke Badley-Morgan an unused substitute.