England rounded off their emphatic Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a comfortable 4-0 victory over Kosovo at the Fadil Vokrri Stadium.
With qualification already secured after a 7-0 win against Montenegro on Thursday, Gareth Southgate made five changes to his side, notably bringing Raheem Sterling back into the team after his highly publicised altercation with defender Joe Gomez.
The home fans jubilantly welcomed the England players as heroes, with the two sides meeting for the first time in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. The crowd held up flags of St. George’s Cross during England’s national anthem and cheered both team’s line-ups as they paid respect to the role of the United Kingdom in liberating their country following the Kosovo War in 1998.
England went into the match needing to avoid defeat to secure their place as one of the Top 6 seeds at next year’s tournament, but it was the hosts who threatened in the early stages. First, Huddersfield’s Florent Hadergionag hit a tame shot straight at deputant goalkeeper Nick Pope and minutes later, a looping header from Atdhe Nuhiu forced the game’s first notable save. Slowly England began to build some momentum and came close to opening the scoring in the 15th minute as Harry Kane picked out Sterling, whose stinging drive was pushed round the post by Arijanet Muric. Callum Hudson Odoi also came in sight of a goal but found his shot comfortably saved by the Kosovo goalkeeper, whilst Kane saw his effort blocked by two defenders in the penalty area.
Eventually, England’s quality proved too much for Kosovo and they opened the scoring in the 32nd minute when Harry Winks scored his first international goal, showing great composure to control Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass and slot the ball into the corner of the net.
Kosovo – who must wait for the playoffs in March to qualify – started the second half just as brightly as the first. Defender Amir Rrahmmani came close on several occasions; first with a glancing header that flew just wide, and later with a free header that probably should have found the back of the net. Kosovo controlled the tempo for much of the second half but found themselves further behind with just 10 minutes to go as Harry Kane maintained his impressive record for scoring in every qualifying match with a simple finish at the near post. The result was then wrapped up moments later as Marcus Rashford found the back of the net with a confident first-time finish, assisted once more by a Sterling pass.
Despite appearing sluggish in many spells of the game, England found a fourth in added time as hesitant defending enabled Kane to set up Mason Mount; the starlet slotted home his first England goal in only his sixth appearance. This late flurry of goals flattered England in what was an unconvincing performance for Southgate’s men, one that will not quieten concerns about their vulnerability when under pressure.
Whilst there won’t be any lingering doubts on the potency of their attack, questions will be asked about how a team ranked #114 in the world were able to frequently dictate proceedings during the match.
Gareth Southgate gave his thoughts to ITV after the game:
We needed a tighter game and a challenge. I’m happy we got that. We had to sustain spells of pleasure and gave them chances – on another night that would be a problem. But attacking, we were ruthless.
Having scored 38 goals in 2019 alone, England fans will be hopeful that this free-scoring style will continue into next year’s tournament – where the three group games, semi-final and final will all be held at Wembley. The next test for the Three Lions is a friendly against Denmark on 31 March, marking their twentieth meeting.