England were world-class in attack and, at times, second-class in defence. Gareth Southgate had claimed there was not enough “jeopardy” in qualifying for Euro 2020, but England have sent a message to the rest of Europe as to the danger they pose.
The danger is also to themselves, however, for as devastating as they were going forward led by the peerless, the almost unstoppable force that is Raheem Sterling, they were uncertain at the back as they gifted three goals to Kosovo who, nevertheless, deserve huge credit for their own sterling performance.
The axis of Sterling and Harry Kane is such an accomplished combination – and it was added to by Jadon Sancho, with his first internationals goals – that England can be optimistic for the finals next summer… but only if, and a big if, Southgate can cut out the errors behind them. Just 34 seconds in and Southgate’s prediction that this would be England’s biggest challenge in their group was provided with some evidence.
Forty-five minutes later and that argument appeared to have been overturned and destroyed. England went behind, but then struck five times before the half-time whistle.
First the setback. It was a catastrophic error as Michael Keane gifted Kosovo possession allowing Valon Berisha put his side in front.
England were soon on terms, however, with Sterling heading home his eighth goal in eight England games. Sterling then set up Kane to put the hosts ahead in Southampton on 19 minutes.
It helped that Kosovo, on the longest unbeaten run in Europe of 15 games, came to play and took the contest to England.
But they then presented England with a third goal. It came as Fidan Aliti went down injured as he challenged Trent Alexander-Arnold by the touchline, but as Kosovo demanded play stopped, England continued with Sancho working his way down the flank and crossing low where defender Mergim Vojvoda turned it into his own goal.
With Declan Rice prompting in midfield, Sterling then put teenager Sancho away to make it 4-1. Before half-time there was time for a second for Sancho with Sterling tricking his way down the left and again arrowing goalwards. He had the chance to shoot, but elected to dink the ball to the unmarked Sancho who side-footed into the empty net.
England errors contributed to Vedat Muriqi adding a brace for the visitors on the restart. (© Daily Telegraph, London)