LONDON (Reuters) -England captain Harry Kane plundered a hat-trick before halftime in a 5-0 hammering of Albania at Wembley on Friday to all but guarantee his side's spot at next year's World Cup in Qatar.
Two draws in their last three Group I matches for Gareth Southgate's team left the door ajar for Poland in the qualifying race, but Kane slammed it shut in memorable fashion as he moved level in fourth place on England's all-time scoring list.
England defender Harry Maguire settled any early nerves with a ninth-minute headed opener before Kane's spree began when he also headed in from close range after 18 minutes.
With Albania in disarray, Jordan Henderson weaved his way through to make it 3-0 before Kane powered in his second from a tight angle and then completed his fourth England hat-trick with a stunning overhead kick on the stroke of halftime.
It moved him level on 44 England goals with former Tottenham Hotspur great Jimmy Greaves nL1N2QL04N who died in September.
With one match remaining England have 23 points to Poland's 20 and a far better goal difference ahead of the formality of a final trip to group whipping boys San Marino on Monday when a point will confirm their place at the 2022 finals.
Albania's capitulation ended their slender hopes of grabbing a playoff spot as they are now five points behind Poland.
It has been a troubling start to the domestic season for Kane who has one Premier League goal for Tottenham Hotspur.
But with Albania's defence more obliging than those in top flight he issued a reminder of his pedigree with England's first 'perfect hat-trick' -- a header, left-foot and right-foot goals -- since David Platt accomplished the feat in 1993.
"The first half was an incredible performance. The pressure was on and we needed a result," Kane, who has scored 12 goals for England this calendar year, said.
"Maybe we had a point to prove and we came out on fire."
Having drawn in Poland and at home to Hungary, England's vice-like grip on the group had loosened somewhat and any slip-up against in-form Albania could have taken the battle for top spot right down to the wire.
But in a whirlwind first half on a sodden Wembley pitch they swept away any doubts.
Albania arrived still with a remote chance of finishing as group runners-up but unravelled spectacularly to crush the hopes of their large and vociferous following.
Their misery began when Klaus Gjasula was yellow-carded for scything through the back of Kane and punishment was meted out in full as Reece James's free kick picked out an unmarked Maguire to power a header past goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.
Albania were almost gifted an equaliser when Kyle Walker's stray pass left Myrto Uzuni clean through but Jordan Pickford produced a terrific save to bail out his team mate.
Had Pickford not made the save the evening could have been tense but when an unmarked Kane headed in Henderson's cross England were in total control.
Henderson punished more slipshod defending 10 minutes later, exchanging passes with Kane before showing great footwork to cut a shot back past Strakosha just before the half-hour.
Kane then rifled a left-foot shot past the beleaguered keeper in the 33rd minute but saved the best to last.
Phil Foden swung in a corner and Kane, with his back to goal, leapt to scissor kick the ball right-footed into the net.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris)