Euro 2020 qualifiers: Gareth Southgate says Kosovo classic 'a better experience' for England
Erratic England behind after just 35 seconds to 120th-ranked Kosovo before running out 5-3 winners at St Mary's Stadium
England's march towards the Euro 2020 finals continued but not quite in the manner they might have expected as they beat a brave and enterprising Kosovo side 5-3 in an extraordinary Group A qualifier at St Mary's Stadium on Tuesday.
Valon Berisha gave 120th-ranked Kosovo the lead after 35 seconds but England hit back seven minutes later through Raheem Sterling's header and the rampant hosts led 5-1 at the interval with a double for teenager Jadon Sancho.
Kosovo, surprisingly second in the group just a point behind England at kickoff, were not about to depart the biggest night in their short footballing history quietly though and exposed worrying weaknesses in England's defence.
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Within 10 minutes of the restart they had scored twice through Berisha and a penalty by Vedat Muriqi, rattling England and leaving manager Gareth Southgate frowning.
"Whether it was the intensity of the game, whether it was the pressure, I don't know," Southgate said.
"In many ways it was a better experience than strolling through the game at five, six [goals] or whatever, even though we probably all could have done without it."
Harry Kane, who scored England's second goal, had a penalty saved by Arijanet Muric and Sterling then hit the post but Kosovo were still going forward until the final whistle and Bersant Celina went close to making it 5-4.
England, who conceded three at home for the first time since 2012, lead the group with a maximum 12 points having scored 19 goals in the process. Kosovo dropped to third with eight points, one behind the Czech Republic who beat Montenegro 3-0 away.
"We’ve seen the high level and we lost some unnecessary balls and were immediately in danger," said Kosovo manager Bernard Challandes, who was upbeat despite the defeat.
"We’ve seen in such situations how we can do better. But if we see the second half we can be proud of this team, they showed good football and they don’t give up - they play as a team.”
Kosovo, who had been on a 15-match unbeaten run coming into the England game, will still believe they can qualify for their first tournament finals, just four years after gaining international status from world soccer's governing body Fifa.
England can clinch qualification for the finals with a win away to the Czech Republic in their next game on October 11.
Updated: September 11, 2019 08:47 AM