England made light work of Bulgaria when the two met in the first-half of this week’s European Championship qualifiers double-header at Wembley on Saturday and there’s no reason to believe they can’t go even better against Kosovo at St Mary’s on Tuesday night.
That 4-0 win has all but ensured Gareth Southgate’s men qualification for the Euro 2020 finals next summer and another convincing victory at Southampton will only reinforce their position at the top of Group A with England to score more than four goals against Kosovo now 4.50.*
Although offering little in the way of credible opposition to pit their wits against one advantage of being in such a poor group might just be that it allows the England boss to experiment with his line-up ahead of the real business which starts next June.
Hat-trick hero on Saturday, Harry Kane, could well be rested as Southgate takes the opportunity to blood a number of names who have excelled at club level in the Premier League with the likes of Trent Alexander -Arnold, Mason Mount, James Maddison and Harry Winks all likely to be in the frame for a start.
As for England’s opponents, Kosovo, the team ranked 120th in the world were only recognised by FIFA and UEFA three years ago and, despite coming to England with a patched-up squad, they will not be afraid of tomorrow’s showdown at St Mary’s in the first meeting between the two countries.
They come into this one second in the group and on the back of an astonishing run which has ensured they have gone unbeaten in their last 15 games, though saying that, they are the only side in Group A not to play a pretty potent looking England.
Admittedly, most of their recent games have been against the likes of Malta, Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands and Montenegro but that run does include a 2-2 draw against Denmark in a friendly.
They beat a poor looking Czech Republic side 2-1 on Saturday with dangerman Milot Rashica, who has scored two goals and provided one assist in the campaign to date, looking to return having sat-out the weekend win while Fenerbahce’s Vedat Muriqi found the net against the Czechs and has been in fine fettle for the Turkish club with two goals in three games this season.
Kosovo currently sit second in the table, on eight points, just one behind England having played a game more but one man not taking anything for granted is manager Gareth Southgate who has warned against complacency in his programme notes for the game.
“I’m expecting this game to be one of the toughest tests that we’ll face this season,” he says. “Kosovo beat Czech Republic at the weekend, and I believe they look as likely to be the closest challengers to us in this group as anybody else.
“We’re going to be facing a very good team, with some decent individual players that are playing in some of the bigger leagues in Europe and, of course, they have tremendous pride in playing for what is a relatively newly-formed country.
“I’ve been really impressed with their matches in this group so far, and also their performances in the Nations League last season, which have put them on a real roll.”
Meanwhile, his opposite number, Bernard Challandes, has understandably taken many positives from his side’s surprise win at the weekend: “It was an incredible result. We have a dream,” said the Kosovo boss. “We had a dream that we could beat Czech Republic and now we have to believe we can upset England.
“We are enjoying the challenge. We have young players, playing in good leagues and we will have to play another special game. We have to give more, produce more fight and get another result.”