LONDON: Jadon Sancho announced himself on the international stage in some style, scoring twice on a night when England’s ruthless edge made up for some shambolic defending in a thrilling, high-scoring win against Kosovo.
A sell-out St Mary’s crowd bore witness to the most entertaining qualifier in many a year as Gareth Southgate’s men continued their march to Euro 2020 with an enthralling, if at times unconvincing, 5-3 victory on the south coast.
Defensive errors gifted Kosovo a shock opener and then second-half hope, but a clinical first half proved decisive as Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane goals were complemented by an own goal and quickfire brace from Sancho in a helter-skelter clash.
It was certainly a memorable first senior international meeting between these countries and the tough challenge predicted by Southgate, who always knew the visitors would be a far sterner test than their 120th place in the world rankings suggested.
Valon Berisha’s opener after 34 seconds underlined that point emphatically, even if it was Michael Keane acting as architect thanks to some poor defending. Berisha’s goal was the first goal scored inside the first minute of an England international since Gareth Southgate scored against South Africa in May 2003.
Soon it was Sancho emphasising his quality, with the 19-year-old’s cross seeing Mergim Vojvoda turn into his own net before becoming the first player born in the 21st century to score for England thanks to a quickfire double as the Kosovans fumed.
Sancho (19 years, 169 days) thus became the youngest player to score more than once in a game for England since Wayne Rooney in June 2004 against Croatia (18 years, 241 days).
The Southampton crowd were rubbing their eyes in disbelief when Kane saw a spot-kick saved by Aro Muric but gutsy Kosovo were unable to capitalise as England strengthened their grip on Group A to end the visitors’ 15-match unbeaten run.
England have scored 14 goals in their three home European Championship Qualifiers (W3 D0 L0), scoring more home goals than any other European nation in qualifying so far but Kosovo were the first team to score three away goals in a competitive international against England since Croatia in November 2007.
Sterling has been involved in 12 goals in his last eight England international appearances (8 goals, 4 assists) and he and Kane have combined for six goals under Southgate for England – at least three times as many as any other duo.