Gareth Southgate believes England are in a better place heading into the Euros than they were ahead of the World Cup, but there remains plenty of work to do after ending qualification with victory in Kosovo.
The Three Lions secured their place among the six top seeds for the Euro 2020 draw by triumphing 4-0 in Pristina, where Harry Winks and Mason Mount opened their international accounts between Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford efforts.
England’s latest emphatic Group A win took their overall tally for 2019 to 38 goals – a haul only bettered by the 39 scored in 1908 – as captain Kane became the country’s first player to net in every qualification match.
Southgate’s men have averaged 3.8 goals per game and are among the favourites for Euro 2020 on the back of runs to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and this year’s Nations League.
“I mean, I would say that we’re definitely further ahead than we were heading into Russia,” said Southgate.
“But we made massive strides in this period when we went into Russia.
“So, we’ve got to make sure that to get the level of performance next summer, we’re going to have to improve in the way that we did over that spell as well.
“And I think the team have belief, for sure, you can see the confidence. I said last night, they don’t come into these matches worrying about what might go wrong, they’ve got the confidence to control games with possession, and they know they’re going to score goals.
“So, yes, what we don’t know, because we haven’t had those tests more recently against the top eight or 10, is exactly how we’re going to cope in those moments.
“And to win the European Championship is, at the moment, no easier than the World Cup.
“The final four were all European, and you’ve got to add Spain, Germany, Portugal and all the others into that, so it’s a really high-level tournament.”
England certainly have the attacking ability to hurt any team at next summer’s finals, where Southgate’s side will play all of their group games at Wembley before hoping to return there for the semis and final.
Issues like set-piece frailties and their uneven midfield dynamic need to be worked on before then given last night’s display in Kosovo, where the scoreline flattered the visitors.
Kane, Rashford and Mount’s goals all came from the 79th minute onwards at Stadiumi Fadil Vokrri, where the hosts gave England a touching welcome following the United Kingdom’s role in helping Kosovo during their time of need two decades ago.
“It was a difficult game,” admitted Southgate.
“It was an amazing reception from everybody from Kosovo which was, obviously, a special night for them and it was a privilege to be part of it so we thank them for that.
“I think similar to some of the games we’ve had where the teams have pressed us high – at first, it was not easy to play through their pressure but I thought (Harry) Maguire and Winks, in particular, gave us a real calmness on the ball to solve that problem.
“Not an easy pitch, you know, a lot of the guys were slipping around. To have the control of the game that we did was good and then as the game went on, a bit more space started to open up and then our counter-attacking and forward play came into its own.
“I thought it was a really good test for us, we needed that. I was keen to see – I was quite happy at 1-0, at 65’, 70’, I was quite happy for that to go 80’, 85’, to see how we would cope with it because we need those sorts of games.
“It was a good test for the young players and the new players coming in, as well as some of the more experienced ones.”
England captain Kane felt it was a professional performance.
The captain said: “It was a difficult game, difficult pitch. They were up for it.
“We had already won the group so the mentality is not always easy to go again but we got it right.
“We went through a few spells where they had some pressure but we soaked it up and then towards the end of the game, when the spaces started to open up, we were clinical. Four-nil is a great result.”
After the game, Kosovo boss Bernard Challandes said he considered England favourites for Euro 2020 following this latest goalfest.
“At the end of the game we have made mistakes and we can’t make such mistakes against an opponent as England,” he said.
“But it was also perhaps because some players were very tired and England are so good.”
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