A goal and three assists from Raheem Sterling proved decisive as England defeated Kosovo 5-3 in front of a raucous home crowd at the St Mary’s stadium.
Kosovo came into the game on a 15 game unbeaten run, and this was reflected in their confident start. The Kosovans began with the high pressing they are notorious for, as Michael Keane’s error gave Kosovo a surprise lead with just 34 seconds on the clock.
England responded swiftly and scored an equaliser via in-form Raheem Sterling’s header. Sterling soon went from goalscorer to provider as he set up captain Kane’s strike to put England ahead in just 18 minutes. Mergim Vojvoda then turned Jadon Sancho’s cross into his own net to put England in a commanding position. Then Sterling really took centre stage. He twice skinned the Kosovan right back Rrahmani, to set up fellow Sancho to score his first England goals.
With the score 5-1 at half time, one could have been forgiven for believing that this game was done and dusted. However, the Kosovans were not to be taken lightly. They began the second with much intent just like they did in the first; catching England off-guard with a swift counter attacking move, as Berisha scored his second goal of the night. This gave the Kosovans added belief, and their pressing again forced England into a defender: this time Harry Maguire was the culprit. Maguire – now the world’s most expensive defender following his £80 million move to Manchester United – fouled striker Muriqi inside the box, who took the penalty himself to give Kosovo a third.
England had a spot-kick of their own, but Kane was unable to replicate the two spot-kicks he scored in Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Bulgaria, as his penalty was saved midway through the second half. England controlled the rest of the half, with the match ending 5-3 to England.
England manager Gareth Southgate gave his verdict on the game, praising Sterling as ‘devastating’ but was critical of their defending throughout the game. He told ITV: “the errors, we have to be better – the players don’t need me to tell them that. The outstanding parts of our play were obvious, the errors were obvious.”
Whilst England fans will be excited with the flair, speed and dynamism in attack, England’s defensive frailties were brutally exposed at the other end of the pitch. This Kosovo side may have come into this game with confidence and belief, but it is important to note that they are ranked 120th in the world rankings, having only gained FIFA membership in 2016. England will face tougher tests, and there are still plenty of problems for Southgate to ponder.