England’s relentless march towards Euro 2020 continued with a thrilling victory over Kosovo, who scored after just 34 seconds.
However, a shoddy defensive display and the fearless approach of their opponents meant this turned into a night of concern for manager Gareth Southgate.
The result leaves England top of Group A with a 100% winning record after four games, while the Czech Republic moved into second place with a 3-0 win over Montenegro.
Kosovo arrived in Southampton on a 15-match unbeaten run and with confidence lifted by victory over the Czechs on Saturday – and when Michael Keane’s error gifted Valon Berisha a goal inside the first minute they briefly contemplated a huge upset.
It did not last long as rampant England, inspired by the magnificent Raheem Sterling, responded ruthlessly with five goals inside the first 45 minutes.
Keane swiftly made amends to set up Sterling to head home after a corner then Manchester City’s unstoppable attacker set up captain Harry Kane for his 26th goal in 41 England appearances.
England extended their lead when Mergim Vojvoda turned Jadon Sancho’s cross into his own net before Borussia Dortmund’s 19-year-old got his first two goals for England, both expertly provided by Sterling.
As an occasionally chaotic encounter swung from end to end, Berisha’s fine finish reignited Kosovo’s hopes early in the second half before more awful defending from Manchester United’s Harry Maguire ended with him conceding a penalty, which Vedat Muriqi scored after he was brought down.
England’s flair and flaws on show
England manager Southgate will have revelled in his side’s attacking variety and intent as they ripped Kosovo apart with those five goals in the first 45 minutes – but this was nothing like plain sailing.
Sterling’s ascent into world-class for club and country needs no confirmation and it was all on show as he tormented the Kosovo defence, scoring one goal and creating three as a wounded England hit back after that early shock.
Kane once again demonstrated his expertise in front of goal while Sancho repaid Southgate’s faith with two goals and a fine performance that earned him a standing ovation when he was substituted.
So far so good. And then came England’s defending.
Everton defender Keane had an inexcusable lapse to pass the ball straight to Berisha in a dangerous position to score the first in the opening minute and the sense of threat every time Kosovo got near England’s goal was an illustration of their defensive unease.
And defensive partner Maguire was no better, clumsily failing to clear before hauling down Muriqi for the penalty.
In the end there was no long-term harm done thanks to England’s potency up front but it is impossible to escape the belief that this defence, and the ability with which Kosovo could get at it, would be relished by better opposition.
England can celebrate the win and taking a giant stride towards Euro 2020 – but there are still problems for Southgate to ponder.
Kosovo’s fearless approach does them proud
Kosovo were not going to wait and wonder what fate held for them as they fulfilled colourful coach Bernard Challandes’ boast that they would come at England with positive intent.
Backed by a magnificent, noisy support, they had the boost of that early goal and in some ways their front foot approach cost them as England cut them apart when they poured forward.
It would have been easy to give up or go into their shell at 5-1, but they came out for the second half to a huge ovation from their fans.
And how they responded, to occasionally have England living on their nerves.
They could not complete the miracle turnaround but they fully deserved the standing ovation from their fans at the final whistle and they will still harbour hopes of being at Euro 2020 next summer.
Man of the match – Raheem Sterling (England)
Super Sterling – the stats
- England have netted 14 goals in their three home European Championship qualifiers, scoring more home goals than any other European nation in qualifying so far.
- Kosovo became the first team to score three away goals in a competitive international against England since Croatia in November 2007.
- England have scored five goals in three different matches in 2019 – the first time they have done so that many times in a calendar year since 1960.
- Valon Berisha’s goal after 34 seconds was the first goal scored inside the first minute of an England international since Gareth Southgate scored against South Africa in May 2003.
- England conceded a goal inside the opening minute of an international match for the first time since November 1993, when San Marino’s Davide Gualtieri scored.
- Raheem Sterling has been involved in 12 goals in his last eight England international appearances (8 goals, 4 assists).
- Harry Kane and Sterling have combined for six goals under Gareth Southgate for England – at least three times as many as any other duo.
- Jadon Sancho (19 years, 169 days) became the youngest player to score more than once in a game for England since Wayne Rooney in June 2004 against Croatia (18 years, 241 days).
- This was the first time both teams had scored three times in an England match since June 1995, when they drew 3-3 with Sweden at Elland Road.
- Kane’s missed penalty ended a run of 23 consecutive penalties scored in competitive internationals by England players – David Beckham’s at Euro 2004 against France was the previous miss.
The next international period takes place in October, with England travelling to the Czech Republic on Friday 11th, followed by an away game in Bulgaria three days later.