PRISTINA: Gareth Southgate believes England still have room for improvement despite the “ruthless” 4-0 rout of Kosovo on Sunday that ensured they will be among the top six seeds at Euro 2020.
Southgate’s side booked their Euro 2020 berth by thrashing Montenegro 7-0 on Thursday and they finished a dominant qualifying campaign by dispatching Kosovo in Pristina thanks to goals from Harry Winks, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount.
Although England weren’t at their best, it was a rewarding finale for the Group A winners, who clinched the high seeding that should help them avoid a tough group in the finals.
Winks’ maiden England goal, in his sixth appearance, was the key moment before second half strikes from Kane and Rashford and Mount’s first international goal.
With all three of their Euro 2020 group games and the semifinals and final being played at home for England, the 2018 World Cup semifinalists will go into the Nov 30 draw as one of the main contenders for the trophy.
But, while he was happy with their attacking play, Southgate insisted his team must sharpen up at the back.
“It was a tight game and a good test for us. It was a difficult pitch, with players slipping and passes going astray,” Southgate said.
“We gave them chances. On another night that would be a problem. The set-plays in particular are something we have to look at. There have been too many people free in the box.
“We know there is still a bit of work to do but I can’t fault the players in this campaign, they’ve been ruthless. We’re more settled with the group now.”
In contrast to the racist abuse that marred England’s qualifiers in Montenegro and Bulgaria, the gratitude still felt in Kosovo for the United Kingdom’s involvement in the Kosovan war in the 1990s, was clear to see.
The loudest cheers were reserved for Raheem Sterling, who was back in the England team after the winger was dropped against Montenegro following his clash with Liverpool’s Joe Gomez in the canteen of England’s training base on Monday.
Southgate believes the controversy over that bust-up has brought England’s squad closer together.
“I think that you have to work through any difficulties you have and the whole group have done that really well. We come out of this stronger than we started it, frankly,” he said.
Winks supplied the breakthrough in the 32nd minute when the Tottenham midfielder ran onto Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass, evaded the obligingly slow-to-react Kosovo defence and slotted home with ease.
Throughout a comfortable qualifying campaign, the main concern for Southgate has been England’s erratic defending and they were nearly exposed when Amir Rrahmani was left unmarked to head just wide early in the second half.
Rrahmani then found himself in acres of space again but headed woefully wide.
England’s class told in the second half and Kane hit the post with a snap-shot from Sterling’s pass.
The same pair linked up for a milestone second goal in the 79th minute.
Sterling eased past his marker and sent in a deflected cross that England captain Kane finished off at the far post.
Kane has netted in all eight qualifiers and is the first England player for over 90 years to score 12 international goals in a calendar year.
It was also England’s 35th goal of the qualifying campaign, breaking their previous record total from the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
There was still time for Rashford to slot home from Sterling’s pass in the 83rd minute before Mount took Kane’s delivery and coolly finished in stoppage time.