Prolific England Sign off in Style
England thwarted another impressive Kosovo display to confirm their status as a top seeded side at Euro 2020. Harry Winks and Mason Mount scored their first international goals.
To cap off a truly forgettable week, Joe Gomez was sent back to Liverpool ahead of the game, because of a knock he picked up in training. Burnley’s Nick Pope was given his first start for the Three Lions, while Tyrone Mings, Declan Rice, Raheem Sterling and Callum Hudson-Odoi also came in.
Lots has been made of the warm welcome the locals had given England over the last few days in Pristina. Kosovan fans have treated England’s players like heroes ever since these two were drawn together – it’s a relationship that dates back to the role the UK played in liberating Kosovans in 1999 during the Kosovo War.
Both sets of fans were in fine voice throughout. England, if they won or drew, would seal a spot as one of the top seeded sides for next summer’s Euros.
A couple of naughty tackles on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain early on had England fans holding their breath, but things settled down and he was able to continue. The first real chance of the night fell to the home side, with Sheffield Wednesday’s Atdhe Nuhiu heading at Pope after he had outmuscled Mings.
It was an encounter that started in positively boring fashion, compared to the crazy game played out between these two back in September. It did present an opportunity to Raheem Sterling though, when Harry Kane laid the ball off to him cutely. Sterling fired towards the corner, but his club teammate Arijanet Muric dived across to parry well.
Kosovo were smart and technical in their interplay all night, but showed a bullish side halfway through the first 45 when Milot Rashica and Ibrahim Drešević both missed powerful strikes from well out.
Hudson-Odoi weaved his way through a number of challenges to make way for a shot on target, before two minutes later England took the lead.
Oxlade-Chamberlain played a disguised pass into the feet of Harry Winks, the furthest advanced player in white. Winks’ touch was superb, cutting open the Kosovan defence and sending him through one-on-one with Muric. He took the chance like a man with 202, rather than just two, Tottenham goals, shaping to bend the ball one way but then deftly tucking it the other.
Winks’ touch was superb, cutting open the Kosovan defence and sending him through one-on-one
Kosovo’s eccentric manager, Bernard Challandes, already looked forlorn. But his side improved and saw out the half trailing only by one.
With 50 minutes on the clock, Kosovo had arguably their best opportunity of the evening. A corner came out to the unmarked Valon Berisha, twice a goalscorer against England at St Mary’s. His volley was hit well but was flying wide. An improvised glancing header from Amir Rrahmani took it closer to the goal, but it still drifted off target.
It was end-to-end stuff in the second period. At one moment, Harry Kane was slamming the ball against the post. At the next, Nick Pope was slipping and then thanking Declan Rice for his covering block, to deny Rashica a goal.
Marcus Rashford replaced the overall disappointing Hudson-Odoi, injecting the sort of pace that has earned him rave reviews on recent Wembley nights with England. They doubled their lead in fortuitous style as the game neared the 80-minute mark.
Raheem Sterling opted to go outside the fullback for the first time in the game, exploding down to the touchline and crossing when he reached it. Fidan Aliti hashed his clearance, allowing the ball to plop at the feet of Harry Kane. That wasn’t ideal from Kosovo’s perspective.
Kane duly controlled his volley into the net, confirming he’s the first player ever to score in every match of a qualifying campaign for England. With the goal, he overtook Israel’s Eran Zahavi to become Euro 2020 qualifying’s outright top scorer. He’d notched 12 goals in just eight fixtures.
Gareth Southgate’s side were taking advantage of Kosovo tiring now and scored again thanks to a trademark driving run at phenomenal pace from Sterling. He laid the ball off for the unmarked Rashford, who bent the ball into the far corner with his first touch.
It was arguably the best goal of a ruthless international break from England. His tenth international goal was a mark of supreme talent and insupressible confidence. In a matter of minutes, England had transformed the scoreline and now led 3-0 at the Fadil Vokrri Stadium.
Mason Mount replaced the lively Oxlade-Chamberlain. Ten minutes later, Chelsea’s Canadian-born centre-back, Fikayo Tomori, came on to earn his first cap. He replaced Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose performance on the night was arguably his worst yet in an England shirt. Out of six crosses attempted, he failed to meet his man with all of them.
Tomori would play at right-back, and England were right back to their scoring form in the first minute of added-on time.
Drešević took an untimely slip at the back, allowing the sniffer dog, Harry Kane, to pinch the ball. Tottenham Hotspur’s all-time top scorer tucked the ball into the path of Mount, who coolly wrapped his left foot around the ball and pushed it into the bottom corner.
The sheer joy on the young man’s face was a repeat of the glee Harry Wink’s had shown at grabbing his first England goal sixty minutes of play earlier.
Referee, Paweł Gil, drew the match to a close and, with it, tied up an enjoyable and successful year for the Three Lions. Their Nations League showing, days after an all-English Champions League final, was desperately disappointing, but other than that it was a year of rampant attacking football and general improvement from Southgate’s young team.
They find out their Euro 2020 group-stage opponents at the end of the month. But in their final game of 2019, it ended Kosovo 0-4 England in Pristina. The hosts were a good test, but better opposition lie ahead for the men in red and white.