Despite the emphatic scoreline, it was an unconvincing performance by Gareth Southgate’s side but they were still able to end as comfortable winners in a remarkable atmosphere in Pristina.
It was a celebratory occasion where the visitors’ received a heroes’ welcome as icons in this country and for the part the United Kingdom played in its 1999 liberation following the Kosovo war.
Needing to avoid defeat to make sure they are in the top pot when the draw is made, England took a first-half lead as Harry Winks produced a composed finish for his first international goal.
Captain Harry Kane effectively wrapped things up with his 32nd goal for England from close range late on – maintaining a superb record of scoring in all eight qualifiers, before substitute Marcus Rashford got in on the act with a smooth finish.
Mason Mount rounded things off in the closing moments for his first goal for his country at senior level.
Kosovo, who were out of automatic qualifying contention but still played with great heart, had opportunities to make it even more of a gala night when trailing by a single goal but missed the chances that presented themselves, captain Amir Rrahmani headed wide of an open goal and Valon Berisha was inches off target.
England, however scrappy in spells, got the job done and can now start planning for Euro 2020.
England’s warmest welcome
England were greeted like heroes from the moment they arrived at Pristina airport on Saturday evening and this game was played out in an astonishing atmosphere.
The build-up was characterised by the themes of ‘Welcome, Brothers’ and ‘Welcome and Respect’, the PA announcer paying heartfelt thanks to England and their supporters for the part the UK government played in liberating Kosovo.
It was a passionate announcement greeted with loud applause around this compact stadium and when England’s team was read out, the crowd finished off each name with a deafening roar.
Kosovo fans held up St George’s flag cards during England’s national anthem and a huge flag was unfurled by the home fans before kick-off.
This was all in stark contrast to the racist abuse England’s players have been subjected to in Montenegro and Bulgaria earlier in this Euro 2020 qualifying group and was every bit as warm and welcoming as the Kosovans had promised.
This game was a sporting symbol of the new Kosovo in this vibrant, busy city as the locals got behind Bernard Challandes’ team with pride and passion, demonstrated by 300,000 applications to get into the 13,500 capacity stadium.
It was standing room only even outside, with groups of Kosovo fans arriving hours before kick-off to claim vantage points on steep steps behind one of the goals.
Trademark England performance
England’s victory bore pretty much all the hallmarks of what has been a very satisfactory campaign, apart from the dreadful performance in defeat against the Czech Republic in Prague.
Southgate possesses an attack of genuine class and potency, with Kane and Rashford on the scoresheet, Raheem Sterling creating two goals and the first England goals for Winks and Mount.
Sterling started after being dropped for Thursday’s 7-0 win over Montenegro following a clash with team-mate Joe Gomez on Monday. The Liverpool defender was subsequently ruled out of the match in Kosovo after injuring his knee in training on Friday.
England have scored 37 goals in qualifying, Kane equalling the highest tally in a calendar year with 12, going level with George Hilson in 1908 and Dixie Dean in 1927. There are no questions, other than enjoyable selection dilemmas, about Southgate’s firepower.
There are still lingering doubts elsewhere and they were not dismissed here, particularly with Kosovo dictating the terms and the tempo after half-time.
England remain vulnerable under pressure and the midfield combination of Winks and Declan Rice does not work when Southgate does not employ a number 10.
It is not right to be churlish after such a qualification but the impression remains that this England can be a mixed bag and will suffer against opposition of the highest quality.
Man of the match – Harry Winks (England)
‘I can’t fault the players’ – what they said
England manager Gareth Southgate, speaking to ITV: “It was a tight game and a good test for us. It was a difficult pitch, with players slipping and passes going astray. We needed a tighter game and a challenge. I’m happy we got that. We had to sustain spells of pressure and gave them chances – on another night that would be a problem. But attacking, we were ruthless.
“Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, in his stage of returning, he’s been a real plus with the power of his running and attacking threat. I thought Harry Winks was excellent in both games and takes the ball well when we need calming.
“The set-plays in particular are something we have to look at. There have been too many people free in the box and chances given away. 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.”
England captain Harry Kane, speaking to ITV: “It was a difficult game, a difficult pitch, they were up for it and we had already won the group so the mentality was not easy to go again. I thought we managed it well, we went through spells where they had pressure but we were clinical and 4-0 is a great result.
“As a striker I want to score goals and to win games. I love scoring, any striker does, hopefully I can keep that going into next summer.
“When you look through our squad everyone pretty much is playing regularly either in the Premier League or top leagues in Europe. If you’re not on it every week there are players who can take your spot.”
Winks’ golden touch
- England have won their past three matches by an aggregate score of 17-0, scoring 17 goals across three matches for the first time since May 1964.
- Only in 1908 (39 goals) have England scored more goals in a calendar year than the 38 they scored in 2019.
- Harry Kane scored for a sixth successive England appearance – post-war, this is only the second time a player has scored in six consecutive games, with Kane also achieving it between October 2017 and July 2018.
- Harry Winks has been on the winning side in each of his six appearances so far, the joint-best 100% win ratio of any player in the history of the national team (Ernest Hine between 1928 and 1931 and Billy Williams between 1897 and 1899 also won six out of six).
- England have averaged 3.8 goals per game in 2019 (38 in 10 games), their best goals-per-game ratio in a calendar year since 1946, when they scored 19 in four games (4.8 per game).
- Harry Kane has been involved in 15 goals in his past six international appearances for England (10 goals, five assists), scoring and assisting against Kosovo.
- Nine of the 16 goals Kosovo have conceded during Euro 2020 qualifying have been against England.