By Neil Leverett
- England face Kosovo in their fourth Euro 2020 qualifier on Tuesday night at St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
- Three Lions beat Bulgaria 4-0 at Wembley on Saturday to top Group A
- Host’s opponents second in standings, unbeaten in qualifying and also in 15 international games
ST. MARY’S, SOUTHAMPTON – After negotiating Bulgaria with little fuss on Saturday, the Three Lions face a potentially tricky test against Kosovo in Southampton on Tuesday evening.
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Kosovo test post-Bulgaria
Having swept side Bulgaria 4-0 at Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening, England’s footballer now face a far trickier prospect on Tuesday night, as the Three Lions entertain Kosovo at St. Mary’s Stadium in Southampton.
As Harry Kane led his side to a comfortable four-goal win in North London via a hat-trick, the skipper will hope to carry on his continuing hot streak for country, as the Balkan nation visit the South coast.
When the initial draw for the European Championships qualifying campaign was made in Dublin last December, few expected Kosovo to pose any major threat competing in their very first tournament as a recognized UEFA nation, however, as the Group has progressed – on the back also of steady progress in qualifiers in both 2016 and 2017, Tuesday’s opponents represent to most realistic threat to England’s pool dominance.
Indeed, as Bernard Challendes brings his side to their biggest test yet -and though few are expecting any less than a home win – Dardanet could yet make quite the impression on last year’s World Cup semi-finalists here.
As England themselves shrug off June’s UEFA Nations League disappointment – via VAR intervention – Gareth Southgate’s men continue to spread their goal-scoring wings in qualifying, for what they hope will be a home semi-final under the Wembley Arch next summer.
Having scored five against five goals in separate game against Montenegro and the Czechs respectively, England have netted four plus goals in all of their qualifying games thus far, with both Kane and Raheem Sterling having notched five goals apiece to this point – continuing their fine early season domestic form.
With even Ross Barkley having been on the scoresheet to buck the trend of the rather barren spell for Chelsea, Kosovo could see Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho be unleashed on a rather uncertain visiting defence, that have not kept a clean sheet since last November against Azerbaijan, as Marcus Rashford too looks to get in on the act.
But, against a side that will stand as the first true test in the Group of England’s prolific tendencies, the Three Lions’ attack will have to be at their sharpest if they are to continue to find the net in such salubrious fashion.
For opponents Kosovo, made up largely of former Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian players by descent – in the wake of the Balkan Wars – the chance to play for the country of many of their parent’s birth seems to have been a huge motivation for their players, a burning desire that has led the visitors to not only be undefeated in the Group so far, but not to have lost a competitive game in 15 matches.
Edging a 2-1 win against the Czech Republic at the weekend, Challendes’ picked up an opening day game point against the Bulgarians in Pristina and another draw away to Montenegro, before a 3-2 win in Sofia and Saturday afternoon’s victory on home turf.
Sitting on eight points in second – albeit having played a game more than England, a win for Kosovo would see the side ranked 120th in the world leapfrog their opponents. Though unlikely, Kosovo still have the players to cause the Three Lions real problems.
Bullish Muriqi leads attack
Whilst manager Challendes would not pretend to boast the most defensively adept side in Europe, the Swiss’ charges are developing the ability to get at the very best on the continent, led by the bullish Vedat Muriqi.
Having earned a Man of the Match performance at the weekend in Pristina for his goal and all-round industry, the 25-year-old Fenerbahce striker is slowly creeping up on the radar as somewhat of an old fashioned number 9; Stocky, able to find the net, superb in the air, but intelligent to boot.
Netting 25 goals for Rizespor last season, Muriqi has scored in his early game for his new club in the course of their pre-season, and will be ably supported by Swansea City’s former Manchester City winger Bersant Celina, who fans of both Ipswich Town and the Swans will rave about.
Likely to accompanied on the opposing flank by Elba Rashani, the Odense forward stands in a for attack currently bereft of Werder Bremen’s Milot Rashica, due to concerns over injury and form.
As is the highlight the intelligence of this side, those of witnessed Dardanet’s winner over the weekend – via a cutely orchestrated corner-kick routine netted by full-back Mergim Vojvoda – can ill refute the men who deign to challenge England’s now comparatively lofty throne in the world game.
As Challendes vocally protested in the pre-match presser, if he did not believe his side to could beat England he ‘should be sacked’, and whilst rather sensationalist in manner, the rapidly rising Balkan nation have a chance on Tuesday night to announce their place on the world stage.
England face Kosovo in the Euro 2020 qualifiers at St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton on Tuesday evening, kick-off 7.45pm UK time.
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