FIVE AGAIN FOR GREEDY ENGLAND
England recovered from an early scare to blitz Montenegro and take another huge step towards qualification for Euro 2020. Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Callum Hudson-Odoi put in brilliant individual displays as England made it two wins from two and ten goals over the two games.
Fresh from their stirring win over the Czech Republic, England travelled to a humid Montenegro – in search of another three points in the Euro qualifiers. A hostile atmosphere was always on the cards in the Podgorica City Stadium, and Gareth Southgate’s young side were met with exactly that on arrival. The team news was that birthday boy Jadon Sancho was replaced on the wing by Callum Hudson-Odoi – only Wayne Rooney has been a younger competitive starter for England. Danny Rose, Ross Barkley and West Ham prospect Declan Rice also came in to make their first starts of the international break. Montenegro were without Stevan Jovetić, but did field Atlético Madrid’s Stefan Savić at centre-back.
Just like at Wembley last week, the match started at a lethargic pace. England and Montenegro were getting to know one another. Harry Maguire headed over from a corner in the game’s first chance, after six minutes. After this, a few dazzling dribbles and early crosses showed England’s two wide men – Raheem Sterling and Callum Hudson-Odoi – were well up for a night of running their eastern European opponents ragged. But the opening exchanges didn’t quite pan out like that.
Indeed, on sixteen minutes it was actually the Three Lions’ hosts that took the lead. Young Hudson-Odoi was found wanting in the air, as lofty left-back Žarko Tomašević beat him in an aerial duel. Midfielder Marko Vešović showed a little luck and a lot of ability as he found his way through a static England defence and curled a beautiful strike past the outstretched hand of Jordan Pickford. The former Torino winger led the celebrations of a tiny nation once again punching well above their weight against England. This wasn’t in the script.
England’s young players stayed calm, kept their cool, believed in the system. Kyle Walker tried desperately hard to stay on his feet but eventually couldn’t, earning his team a wide free-kick in a promising area. Ross Barkley whipped the ball in – a ball so good that Savić left it almost as if it was too intelligent, too perfect for him. Everton’s Michael Keane rose highest to plant a superb bullet header down into the bottom corner of the net. Keane turned away to celebrate with England’s ever-dedicated travelling supporters. His first senior goal for his country would steady the nerves.
Forwards Stefan Mugoša and Sterling squandered good opportunities to put their respective sides ahead, before Sterling’s side did make it 2-1. Strong hold-up play from Harry Kane allowed him to sweep a pass out to Chelsea’s Hudson-Odoi. The teenaged winger cut inside and striked the ball on goal. It looked to be heading in, but on second viewing was heading wide. Just as well then that midfielder Ross Barkley came ghosting in to divert the ball past Danijel Petković. With seven minutes to go until half-time, England had taken the lead at a perfect moment. They held out, plodding down the tunnel at 2-1 up.
Callum Hudson-Odoi gave the second period its first talking point. He took a cross-field ball into his stride with unerring technique, waltzing between a couple of defenders before driving the ball and forcing a decent save from goalkeeper Petković. He really is some talent. Was Maurizio Sarri watching? Will it make a difference even if he was?
England were then defending for a good five minutes, before they took a giant leap towards claiming three points. Raheem Sterling tormented the left-back before pulling the ball back to the edge of the box, where England were queueing up. Barkley arrived and slammed a side-foot finish into the left-corner, doubling the lead for England. He scored twice in his first 26 England caps – he’d notched up two in Podgorica.
Jordan Henderson, for his 50th cap, came on for England. Straight into the action, he won the ball back from the Montenegrin midfield and Ross Barkley read the situation superbly well, splitting the defence and putting Sterling and Kane through on goal against only the keeper. Sterling ran wide slightly, Kane stayed onside slightly, and the first squared the ball for the second to tuck home and get himself on the scoresheet. It was Harry Kane’s 22nd international goal – he’ll feel there are many more to come, yet. England led 4-1 in Montenegro. James Ward-Prowse and Callum Wilson were introduced.
Things were going well, but they got even better ten minutes later. Henderson slotted another pinpoint pass through the Montenegrin defence to Raheem Sterling. The scintillating wide player made a lovely blind run, Henderson spotted it, Sterling took it in his stride and nonchalantly nutmegged the helpless goalkeeper. His celebration seemed to indicate he’d been the victim of racial abuse and, as the match drew to a close, Danny Rose became the focus of some utterly despicable chants from Montenegro fans, too. UEFA must act – they’ve banned flares in stadiums, now they must punish racial discrimination with at least the same severity. Still, Sterling had scored a lovely goal and England had scored five.
The contest, which hadn’t been contested for a while, drew to a close. It seemed an awfully long time ago now that Montenegro had stolen the lead in front of their raucous home fans. For the second game in a row, England had five. For the first time under Southgate they had won five on the bounce. England sit comfortably at the top of qualification Group A. Every game has been a draw, apart from England’s two of course.
Next for Gareth Southgate, Steve Holland and England are the UEFA Nations League Finals in Portugal this summer. The Netherlands await – 4-0 winners this week over Belarus, but beaten late on by Germany on Sunday. The Three Lions can win the Nations League Finals. If they did, they’d have won a major trophy for the first time since Bobby and Bobby lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in sunny 1966. But, here, in their second Euro qualifier, England had negotiated the hostility, winning in Montenegro by five goals to one.