England were made to work hard to eventually claim a 5-3 victory over Kosovo at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium, maintaining the Three Lions’ 100% winning record in the European Championships Qualifiers.
The Kosovo fans were in dreamland when they took a surprise early lead. With just 34 seconds having been played, Ross Barkley and Michael Keane muddled their passing and, after Verdat Muriqi won the loose ball, Valon Berisha made no mistake by shooting past Pickford.
However, the away side’s lead stood for just under seven minutes as Keane made amends for his earlier mistake by heading the ball to Raheem Sterling who in-turn nodded past Arijanet Muric from close-range. Just over ten minutes later the hosts went ahead. Sterling’s excellent turn under pressure opened up space to slide Harry Kane forward; the England captain found the net with a powerful strike under Muric.
More hesitancy from England almost allowed Kosovo to grab a second. Berisha was given time and space on the edge of the box to acrobatically play the ball across goal; Jordan Pickford failed to claim the loose ball as it almost fell to Vedat Muriqi. Thankfully for the hosts, it bounced away to safety.
Jadon Sancho’s twisting and turning on the edge of the box created enough room for him to slide the ball to Barkley; it was a wasted opportunity though as the Chelsea midfielder struck well over.
Vojvoda came millimetres away as the visitors threatened once more but his long-range effort struck the side netting.
The Kosovo full-back then netted an unfortunate own-goal moments later as, on 38 minutes, Sancho drove forward and his low cross turned across the line. It proved a controversial goal for the hosts though.
Trent Alexander-Arnold had won the ball against Fidan Aliti on the half-way line but, as Sancho darted forward, the Kosovo defender had gone down with an injury and the visitors were calling for the ball to be put out-of-play despite the referee waving play on.
England eventually had their fourth goal on 44 minutes when they capped off a fine counter-attack with a low strike from Sancho which snuck under Muric. There was enough time for England to add a fifth before the interval as Sterling comfortably beat central defender Amir Rrahmani before sliding the ball to Sancho for the Borussia Dortmund winger to convert.
Gareth Southgate’s side almost extended their lead to five goals when Alexander-Arnold cut inside against his marker on the edge-of-the-box; the Liverpool talent was denied by a strong diving save by Muric.
Instead, England’s lead was reduced on 54 minutes. England’s sloppy defending had Harry Maguire failing to clear a diagonal ball across and, in doing so, he clipped Muriqi to concede a penalty. The Fenerbache forward sealed his hat-trick with a left-footed strike which Pickford was unable to stop despite getting two hands to it.
England had a spot-kick of their own awarded when Barkley was felled by Rrahmani; however, after almost two minutes of delay, Harry Kane had a penalty for his country saved for just the second time as Muric saved his poor attempt from twelve yards.
Kane showed generosity ten minutes later as he slotted Sterling into space. The Manchester City forward’s shot was saved by Muric’s legs and struck the post before bouncing to safety.
With seven minutes remaining, Southgate made his first two changes as Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount came on for Sancho and Barkley.
The duo almost made an immediate impact was given space to attack, after Mount drew a foul, but the Manchester United man had his fierce strike saved by Muric.
Bersant Celina could have added a fourth for Kosovo to set-up a nervy finish for England; however, the Swansea City forward’s curling effort turned narrowly past the post as the hosts were, once again, caught napping in defence.
Eventually, as the final whistle was blown, England registered a 5-3 victory – maintaining their 100% record in the European Championships Qualifiers. There were plenty of positives for Kosovo though and if they produce similar performances against their opponents as they did against the Three Lions, they could have high hopes of making the tournament next summer.
England: Pickford, Alexander-Arnold, Keane, Maguire, Chilwell, Rice, Henderson, Sancho (Rashford 84), Barkley (Mount 83), Sterling, Kane.
Unused England Subs: Heaton (GK), Pope (GK), Trippier, Rose, Gomez, Mings, Winks, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Maddison, Wilson.
Kosovo: Muric, Hadergjonaj, Aliti, Rrahmani, Vojvoda, Halimi, Voca (Vaskaj 59), Berisha (Hasani 85), Celina, Muslija (Paqarada 46), Muriqi.
Unused Kosovo Subs: Ujkani (GK), Bekaj (GK), Dresevic, Kryeziu, Rashani, Nuhiu, Zhegrova, Berisha.