England Edge Thriller on South Coast

Goal-grabbing: Raheem Sterling reacts quickest to nod the ball into the net and equalise early on for England [photo: UEFA.com]

England 5-3 Kosovo

England ended Kosovo’s 15-game unbeaten run in Southampton, holding on to claim an entertaining 5-3 win. However, they failed to score in the second half, whilst conceding twice.

Kosovo had done enough to convince Gareth Southgate they’re not minnows to simply be swallowed up. With that in mind, the England manager stuck to the core that faced Bulgaria in Saturday’s 4-0 win.

Only three changes were made, with Jadon Sancho, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Chilwell all coming in, aged 19, 20 and 22 respectively. Kosovo arrived in Southampton with a loud and boisterous following, hoping to extend their run of 15 games unbeaten – the longest such run in Europe. The sides had never met before.

Under the lights at a sold-out St Mary’s Stadium, Kosovo kicked off. England won the ball. England lost the ball. Kosovo scored… after 34 seconds. Michael Keane had made a disastrous error, passing blindly towards Harry Maguire. Instead the ball ran to Vedat Muriqi, who played in Valon Berisha to convert past a helpless Jordan Pickford. 1-0 Kosovo, a nightmare start for the group leaders.

The last player to score in an England international after exactly 34 seconds had been Gareth Southgate.

Schoolboy Stuff: Michael Keane’s no-look pass to Harry Maguire cost him dearly, as Valon Berisha nipped in to give Kosovo a first-minute lead [photo: UEFA.com]

Six minutes later, England won a corner which Ross Barkley dropped into the box with a flat, punted delivery. Keane atoned for his error by rising highest to knock the ball down. The shortest man on  the pitch, Raheem Sterling, turned into the opportunist poacher that he is these days, heading past Manchester City teammate Arijanet Muric to equalise for England.

Sterling was lively throughout the first period, turning provider on 19 minutes as England took the lead for the first time. He turned a Kosovan midfielder brilliantly, before sprinting at the defence. Harry Kane pulled wide to his left and duly received the ball. England’s skipper shot powerfully through the goalkeeper on his left foot. It was 2-1 in Southampton.

Mërgim Vojvoda, scorer of Kosovo’s winner over the Czech Republic on Saturday, shot fiercely just wide of goal in the game’s next action, before becoming the latest victim of Jadon Sancho’s trademark scintillating wing play. Having beaten the left-back, Sancho eventually dug out a low cross from the right, which deflected cruelly off Vojvoda and doubled England’s lead.

Kosovo looked to get back into the game, but were playing against a now world class player in Raheem Sterling. He surged forward as the focal point of another England attack, cutting the ball through for Sancho. Borussia Dortmund’s young star got the ball out of his feet and then shot under Muric to make it a resounding 4-1.

The board went up to show the additional minutes, but Sterling simply wanted to keep on running all night long. He travelled again, squaring once more for Sancho, who this time had had the hard work done for him, tapping into an empty net for a 5-1 half-time lead. He had become the youngest England international to score a brace since Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004.

First of Many: Jadon Sancho scores his first international goal on the night he scored twice and assisted once for England [photo: UEFA.com]

Out the blocks both teams came for the second period, but another awful misplaced England pass allowed Berisha in again. He twisted and turned Jordan Henderson as if he wasn’t there, before bending the ball smartly into the top corner. 5-2, it’d happened again.

A few moments later, the errors seemed to be catching, as Harry Maguire chopped down Fenerbahçe striker Muriqi. A penalty was awarded. Pickford got a big piece of it, but ultimately conceded for the third time on the night. None had been his fault.

England collected their thoughts, calmed things down and duly improved. A wonderful solo run from Ross Barkley saw him stopped abruptly and an England penalty awarded in what was turning into the game that just kept on giving.

Harry Kane stepped up – he always scores, but he didn’t. Muric dived well and saved majestically. He was way off his line when he did so, but in a game with no VAR there was no retake. Kane had been denied in a game that seemed destined to break any and all trends, but had hardly gone all England’s way.

Raheem Sterling hit the post and then blazed over the bar from no more than five yards as England pushed for a second-half strike. Nothing came though, even with the late introductions of Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount.

Proud Men: Kosovo coach Bernard Challandes was proud of his side’s brave attacking performance, but came up against “one of the best players in the world” in Raheem Sterling [photo: UEFA.com]

The sixth goal never came, but neither did Kosovo’s fourth. The final whistle did though, and it confirmed that England remain at the top of the group with four wins from four. It also confirmed them to be the highest scorers in qualifying so far, and brought to an end Kosovo’s unbeaten run.

Their fans are still likely to travel home very happy indeed though – they scored three as England won 5-3 at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton. The last time both sides scored three in an England international was way back in 1995, whilst Kosovo became the first side to score three away to England competitively since Croatia back in 2007.

Kosovo are down to third as the Czech Republic won comprehensively in Montenegro. England face the Czechs and Bulgaria in two away fixtures next month. If they avoid defeat in both, they’ll have gone an entire decade without losing a single Euro or World Cup qualifier.

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