By Neil Leverett
- With the first international break of the season underway, England face back-to-back Euro 2020 qualifying doubles
- Gareth Southgate’s men face Bulgaria at Wembley on Saturday, before entertaining Kosovo at St. Mary’s on Tuesday
- Three Lions beat Czech Republic and Montenegro in March, to top Group A
WEMBLEY STADIUM, UK – With the international break in full-swing, England face a Euro 2020 qualifying double in the coming days against first Bulgaria and then Kosovo.
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Lions’ pride roars again
Three months on from suffering UEFA Nations League disappointment in Portugal, England resume their international adventures as Gareth Southgate‘s men plot their path to next summer’s European Championships, culminating in the semi-finals and final on home soil of Wembley Stadium next July.
After 3-1 defeat to Oranje in Guimaraes earlier this summer, the Three Lions finished third after a penalty shootout win over Switzerland days later. Though somewhat a setback in their huge progress made since and during the the World Cup, having already opened their qualifying Group A campaign with successive wins, the next week sees England look to take large steps towards European glory.
With England’s best still in rich goal-scoring vein, Southgate will look to continue the growing good feeling amongst home fans, with the distinct possibility of sitting with 12 points on Tuesday evening.
Hosts remain hungry
With another summer footballing heartache fresh in the mind – despite huge progression – the focus and above all hunger still burns strong with England’s fledgling Lions. With the dangling carrot of a potential European Championship final in their own Wembley back yard just ten months away, first of all however the goal remains to secure top spot in Group A.
Having notched emphatic win against the Czech Republic and Montenegro already in the pool, the Three Lions have scored ten goals already and will be looking to add further spoils to their tally in the coming days.
This England side has much to prove, but as the international club net has been spread further this domestic season, the national side will be keen to again show off their wares, with making a strong statement in mind ahead of Euro 2020.
Mount to build pedestal?
With Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling set to form the fulcrum of England’s line-up, the latter in particular looks to be in the best form of his life, having started the new Premier League season in prolific form.
Jadon Sancho will likely complete the three-pronged attacking trio, but the eyes will be on England’s midfield, and how exactly Southgate sees his side taking shape over the next 12 months.
With James Maddison set to become England’s main source of industry in midfield, Chelsea’s Mason Mount could also be given a chance from the start to impress, having eschewed his way into Frank Lampard‘s starting XI in West London.
Given Southgate’s ties with the U-21 side, the England coach will have seen the early steps made by the Blues’ dynamo, and having now flourished after a loan spell at Derby County, Mount is ready to put himself on a pedestal on the international scene ahead of Euro 2020.
Whilst Bulgaria are unlikely to pose any real threat, it is their second opponent of the international break in Kosovo, who present England with the trickiest and in many ways the most unpredictable threat to the Three Lions’ 100% record.
As a former territory of the Eastern Bloc and the Former Yugoslavian Republic, Kosovo have benefited from the rise of the game in Eastern Europe, and its’ national team have become somewhat the descendants of the break up of the region.
Officially a member of UEFA since May 2016, Bernard Challendes‘ men have been quietly creeping onto the radar in international football and though ranked only 120th, remain unbeaten in qualifying – picking up a win in Sofia in June – and pose a potent attacking threat.
In vice-captain Valon Berisha, the Lazio man stands an experienced individual on relatively young shoulders. Bersant Celina will be familiar to fans of Manchester City but most keenly aware will be those of Ipswich Town and Swansea City persuasions, who have witnessed the diminutive winger’s mazy runs through opposition defences – and a fair share of goals to boot.
Whilst Werder Bremen’s Milot Rashica has been omitted from the latest squad due to issue over form, Kosovo do boast one of the more exciting strikers across the continent in Vedat Muriqi, who has five goals for his country and whose 25 goals last season for Rizespor, prompted a summer move to Turkish Super Lig side Fenerbahce.
England will undoubtedly be favourites to pick up three points on the South coast on Tuesday night, but should Kosovo arrive in Southampton with their unbeaten game stretch having been extended to 15 – against the Czech Republic on Saturday – the Balkan side will have one eye on at least ruffling a few feathers.
England play Bulgaria at Wembley Stadium on Friday evening, before traveling to St. Mary’s Stadium to face Kosovo next Tuesday.
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