55 mins: England win a free kick on the left. This half they have only attacked from free kicks, and even then poorly. This one goes behind for a goal kick.
53 mins: Rrahmani totally fluffs a free header! He runs onto the ball, just beyond the far post, and with Pope completely exposed gets his effort completely wrong, the ball spinning well wide of goal. It’s turned behind for another corner, which is cleared.
50 mins: Close! The corner is headed clearish to Berisha, whose shot is going well wide before Rrahmani gets a touch to it, after which it goes much less wide! But still wide.
49 mins: Kosovo cross from the right, cross from the left and cross from the right again, without England dealing with any of it at all well. In the end Oxlade-Chamberlain shanks a clearance out of play for a corner.
48 mins: Kololli earns the day’s first booking for stopping Sterling from running onto a return pass from Oxlade-Chamberlain. The pass was anyway a bit overhit, so he probably wouldn’t have reached it anyway.
The players are back out, with both teams unchanged. The second half is about to begin!
It has not been a memorable half of football. Winks and Rice are I fear not an ideal partnership in central midfield, and with Kosovo doing most of their attacking down the wings the latter hasn’t contributed a great deal. Perhaps a more offensive midfielder would help England a bit more in this game, even if it leaves the centre a little underdefended.
Half time: Kosovo 0-1 England
45 mins: England pass the ball about a bit as the seconds until half-time tick down, and after absolutely no stoppage time, the referee blows his whistle. England have the lead at the break!
43 mins: Mings’ back-pass is a bit wide of Pope, who is a bit slow to react, and Kosovo have a freebie corner.
42 mins: From just outside the area, Celina takes a touch to set himself and then shoots over the bar. “One of my best friends worked in an embassy in Pristina for a time – had nothing but good things to say about the lovely people in a country that’s looking to move forward,” writes Tom Hopkins. “In fact, she did some work with the Kosovo National Ballet and their main grumble was that every producer they brought in from elsewhere just wanted to do things about war.” Yes, that must be a frustration.
38 mins: A bit of wind appears to have gone out of the game’s sails since the goal. Sterling has shifted from the right to the left, with Hudson-Odoi moving in the other direction, and looks much happier for it.
35 mins: Hadergjonaj gets into a fine crossing position on the right, but curls the ball straight to Pope. They look a fine side in search of a cutting edge.
33 mins: Oxlade-Chamberlain feints to shoot but instead conjures a lovely pass to Winks, whose first touch is lovely. Dresevic looks well placed to make a challenge but instead he takes a step back and Winks can run into the area, convince Muric he’s about to shoot to his right, wait for him to commit and then shoot to the left!
GOAL! Kosovoa 0-1 England (Winks, 32 mins)
Suddenly, Kosovo’s til-now steadfast defence opens up, and England take the lead!
30 mins: Save! Berisha dances into England’s penalty area, and might have gone down when Sterling challenged. Instead he loses the ball, England break and in the end Hudson-Odoi dances into Kosovo’s penalty area, but when he eventually shoots Muric makes an easy save.
28 mins: Rice just fails to cut out a pass just outside Kosovo’s penalty area. Had he got a toe to it, it would have deflected to a lonely Kane in a very dangerous spot. Anyway, he didn’t. As you were.
26 mins: Another shot from long range, this from Dresevic, but it goes wide. Kosovo are probably shading this game at the moment, even if they don’t seem that interested in getting into England’s penalty area.
24 mins: Another shot! Rashica took it, and it was arrowing right into the corner, but it was from a shade over 30 yards so Pope had time to make the save.
23 mins: Kosovo win a corner, from which Rrahmani heads straight into a defender. In Sofia, the day’s other Group A game is also goalless.
22 mins: Sterling knocks the ball back to Alexander-Arnold and then sprints into the area after the chipped return pass, but Muric comes out to claim. There’s quite a lot of imprecision about both sides’ passing, probably because the pitch is not entirely reliable.
20 mins: Oxlade-Chamberlain brings Aliti down, revenge perhaps for the earlier foul he suffered. Or just an innocent bit of gentle kicking. Either way.
17 mins: Oxlade-Chamberlain is on the turf again, this time after losing his footing. He beats the earth again, but only in frustration.
15 mins: Chance for England! Chilwell picks up the ball in his own half and runs in a straight line down the left flank until level with the penalty spot, from where he crosses low to Kane. He controls and lays it back to Sterling, whose shot is saved by a diving Muric.
14 mins: Winks is seeing a lot of the ball. He feeds Sterling on England’s right, but the cross is overhit and bounces out for a throw-in.
12 mins: …Muric comes out confidently to claim the ball when it arrives.
11 mins: Oxlade-Chamberlain is down again, this time because Aliti kicked his ankle. Alexander-Arnold will swing the ball into the area.
8 mins: The right flank has been a centre of sloppiness for England so far, with Sterling giving the ball away a couple of times, and now Alexander-Arnold doing so too.
7 mins: Save! A cross from the left, and Nuhiu beats Mings to the header – neither player bothering to jump – and heads goalwards, but Pope is well placed and stops it.
6 mins: A bit of gentle sparring to start the game, largely concentrated within 15 yards of the halfway line.
3 mins: He’s back up, and is playing on! After initially clutching a knee and beating the turf and generally looking very poorly, he recovered pretty quickly. Oxlade-Chamberlain has already had three serious knee injuries and appears thoroughly likeable, so that was a heart-in-mouth moment as well as a knee-in-hands one.
1 min: A shot! It’s taken Kosovo 28 seconds, but Hadergjonaj’s 20-yarder is weak and easily stopped by Pope.
They have sung their anthems. A violinist has blatantly mimed to Kosovo’s. And we’re almost ready for action!
The players are in the tunnel! It’s very, very white in there. The floor is white. The ceiling is white. The walls are white. England are dressed all in white.
England continue to deal with a deluge of praise, thanks and general appreciation as kick-off approaches:
Gareth Southgate has a chat, firstly about Kosovo and the welcome England have experienced there:
Incredible. We had a bit of a heads-up on that, but yeah, it’s a massive occasion for Kosovo and we’ve got to be prepared for that on the pitch. They didn’t play so well at the weekend so there’ll be a reaction from that, and obviously we’re a big scalp.
He talks about the game as “a chance to have a bit of a look at a couple of players we need to have a closer look at before the summer”, with Nick Pope and Callum Hudson-Odoi on trial today. But he says he also “wanted to get a balance today of some consistency from what we did in the last game”, hence keeping the same full-backs.
I think it’s fair to say that this is not the reception England are used to receiving when they play away:
The Kosovo manager, Bernard Challandes, seems quite impressed by this England team:
We know exactly against who we will play and we have seen in the last game and all this campaign, England has the best potential offensive in the world now. For me, it’s the first favourite for the next European Championship, with this offensive potential. It’s an advantage for us to play here. There’s a big, big enthusiasm behind the team. People are very proud of the team. Unfortunately we have only 13,000 spectators, but I think the players of Kosovo have a good feeling with the support, and that can help, particularly today. We never lost here, but we never played against such a team as England also.
A peek inside the Kosovo dressing room suggests that they are partial to the occasional biscuit:
In case you’ve already forgotten September’s Wembley goalfest between these sides, here’s a reminder:
Kosovo’s line-up: Muric, Hadergjonaj, Aliti, Rashica, Celina, Rrahmani, V Berisha, Vojvoda, Kololli, Dresevic, Nuhiu.
England’s team is in, and it looks like this: Pope, Alexander-Arnold, Maguire, Mings, Chilwell, Winks, Rice, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Hudson-Odoi, Sterling, Kane.
And so, for Euro 2020 Qualifying Group A, it ends. The group’s final two games kick off at 5pm GMT, but already we know that Kosovo will finish in third place, the Czech Republic in second and England first, with the only uncertainty being whether Bulgaria, who host the Czechs in Sofia, can get the point they need to climb off the foot of the table at Montenegro’s expense. But thanks to Uefa’s merry if mightily confusing bonus extra qualifying play-off bonanza stage both Bulgaria and Kosovo (because of their performances in the Nations League) will have another chance, whatever happens to them today, and Montenegro will thus be the only team from the group to actually be eliminated at the end of it, even if they don’t finish bottom of it.
So, that’s cleared that up.
Thus nothing of great significance rests on this game. But Gareth Southgate was right to say in the build-up that “seeding could be crucial”, and England need to win to guarantee that they will be in the top group of seeds for the Euro 2020 final tournament draw (5pm GMT on Saturday 30 November, diary fans), which would probably make their progress through the tournament a great deal smoother, and as an added bonus would guarantee that they play all their group games at Wembley.
Happily, Kosovo is one of the rare corners of Europe that does not yet dislike the British, and something akin to a carnival atmosphere is expected at the Stadiumi Fadil Vokrri in Pristina (Fadil Vokrri was a fine footballer and later president of the Kosovan FA, who died last year aged 57). Here’s a Nick Ames story on that special relationship:
And here’s David Hytner’s big match team news update and preview thingy: