Kosovo head coach Bernard Challandes stole much of the pre-match spotlight with his animated press conference, dramatically urging his players to attack from the first whistle. His passion was electric, and it clearly translated onto the turf at Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium.
Within just 34 seconds, a lackadaisical England defence invited pressure onto themselves, before Michael Keane passed a suicide ball across defence – directly into the path of a black Kosovo shirt.
Valon Berisha was played in on goal and showed his composure as an experienced striker – having previously represented Norway internationally prior to Kosovo – as he lifted the ball over Jordan Pickford.
After the early sucker punch, Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions gathered and reorganised. Only eight minutes later, they were back level when Raheem Sterling, who was excellent again on the night, headed home from a Keane assist to restore parity.
Sterling turned provider soon after, setting up Harry Kane to score his fourth England goal in just a matter of days, following the hat-trick against Bulgaria at Wembley. Soon the floodgates opened, as they had been expected to throughout much of the pre-match build up.
Mergim Vojvoda turned the ball into his own net from Jadon Sancho’s cross to extend England’s lead, before Borussia Dortmund’s 19-year-old talisman added to the scoreline with his first two goals for his country. Both Sancho’s goals were set up by Sterling, who was virtually unplayable against the Kosovan defence.
Suddenly, the early calamity didn’t look too troubling, given the 5-1 half time scoreline. But, once again after the break Challandes sent his men out with the goal to press England. It’s nothing something the Three Lions have particularly experienced so far in their qualifying campaign, and complacency and nerves saw them struggle once more.
The match became a chaotic end-to-end encounter, with Berisha seizing upon some more woeful defending to score his second of the evening with a truly sublime finish. The cross to find the Lazio star wasn’t bad, either. Harry Maguire then found himself guilty of some lax defending, when he brought down a Kosovo-shirted player and gifted the visitors a penalty. Despite being on a hat-trick, Berisha ceded the spot kick to sizeable forward Vedat Muriqi, whose thundered strike found the back of the net despite Pickford getting a glove to the ball.
Kosovo fought on from them on, with their do-or-die attitude and all-out attacking style leaving vast gaps at the back for England to exploit, but also asking some real defensive questions of the hosts. Bersant Celina was inches close to making things really interesting in the closing moments, before the final whistle ended what was a frenetic, exhilarating contest.
Kosovo look likely to qualify for EURO 2020 too, and purely as an exciting, attacking side to watch many more football fans will now be hoping they do.