Kosovo v England: Impossible to ignore goals potential of final Three Lions group game

Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate has masterminded an entertaining campaign

England have been the great entertainers of Euro 2020 qualifying and even with their place in Euro 2020 assured there should be goals in this one, according to Steve Rawlings

"These two shared eight goals between them in their one and only meeting to date and other than their 2-1 defeat to the Czechs, the other six England qualification matches have seen at least four goals scored - even when the opposition draw a blank."

Kosovo v England
Sunday, 17:00
Live on ITV1


Improving Kosovans have much to celebrate

Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, Kosovo played only one unofficial international friendly in the last century - losing 3-1 to Albania in 1993. Political tensions and the Kosovo war (1998-99) prevented any further footie and they played their next match in 2002 - losing 1-0 at home to Albania.

They played four more unofficial friendlies between 2005 and 2007 before they played their first game as an independent nation state, having unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, in 2008, again losing to neighbours Albania. That was their final unofficial friendly.

After a break of four years, Kosovo played its first official match - a 0-0 draw at home to Haiti - and in 2018 they played in their first ever World Cup qualifier - drawing 1-1 in Finland. That was a fantastic start but it transpired to be the only point won in a campaign that ended with nine straight defeats but they've largely been on the up ever since.

After their dismal World Cup campaign, Kosovo won three friendlies in-a-row and they've been a good example of why the UEFA Nations League was such a great idea. Having been unbeaten, winning four and drawing two, Kosovo topped Group 3 and they've taken that fine form into the European Championship qualifiers.

Having lost 5-3 at St Mary's in September, England are the only team Kosovo have failed to beat in Group A and their only other defeat came on Thursday night in the Czech Republic (2-1) to end any feint hopes they had of automatic qualification but they were leading there up until the 71st minute after Sheffield Wednesday's Atdhe Nuhiu had given the Kosovans the lead early in the second half.

Group winners look to sign off in style

After their comprehensive 7-0 demolition of Montenegro on Thursday night, England have won Group A regardless of the result on Sunday. Gareth Southgate's questionable decision to make Raheem Sterling sit out the match following his mysterious canteen altercation with Joe Gomez on Monday made no odds whatsoever to the outcome of the match and the Three Lions are favourites to lift the trophy at Wembley on July 12 next summer.

The 7-0 success followed a 6-0 win in Bulgaria, where the result itself was overshadowed by racial abuse from the terraces, so Southgate's men have rallied superbly after their shock 2-1 defeat to the Czech Republic last month.

England have won six of their seven qualifiers with an aggregate score of 32-6 and given they've won 4-0, 5-0 and now 6-0 and 7-0, the more optimistic England fans will be hoping for an 8-0 to finish the set but the Dardanians won't be at all fearful of the trend continuing. In what was a very strange affair, they took an early lead at St Mary's in September and although the Three Lions raced to a 5-1 lead at the break, the visitors won the second half 2-0. They'll provide a far tougher test than either Bulgaria or Montenegro.

Goals likely to flow again in Pristina

With third place assured in Group A, Kosovo will definitely feature in the playoffs in March so this game is arguably more of a dead rubber for the hosts than it is for England. The Three Lions aren't yet guaranteed to be seeded at the finals in the summer - although in all likelihood, regardless of Sunday's result, they will be.

Despite their defeat on Thursday, I suspect the mood will be good for the hosts in Pristina on Sunday and I expect the home team to play with freedom and without fear. England have only conceded six goals in their seven qualifiers to date and the Kosovans are responsible for half of them.

In the space of just over a year, the Dardanians have won their Nations League and secured a place in the playoffs to reach their first major tournament. It matters not whether they win, lose or draw on Sunday it's been a brilliant and historic run of form for the fledgling nation and there should be something of a party atmosphere in Pristina.

Opinions are divided about Southgate's decision to ostracize Sterling, albeit for just one game, and it will be interesting to see how strong the squad will be going forward. Whatever occurred on Monday, both Gomez and Sterling have done the rights things since with first Gomez pleading for Sterling to remain in the squad and then Raheem condemning the insane booing of Gomez at Wembley on Thursday but will cracks start to appear now? And how will they respond on Sunday? As wrong as it was for anyone to boo Gomez, Southgate's punishment instigated it and the jury is most definitely out as to whether he's managed the whole affair correctly.

Even without the Sterling/Gomez sideshow, this may not be as straightforward for England as the market suggests and I'm in no rush to pile into England at around the 1.51/2 mark in the outright market. This should be a night of celebration for an emerging nation but I'm not tempted to side with the Kosovans at a shade over 6.05/1 either. So far, England have responded brilliantly to adversity and even though they're clearly improving, Kosovo beating the Three Lions would be a sizable shock.

There is a myriad of side markets on offer for this match but I'm going to keep things fairly simple and go for goals. These two shared eight goals between them in their one and only meeting to date and other than their 2-1 defeat to the Czechs, the other six England qualification matches have seen at least four goals scored - even when the opposition draw a blank.

Both Teams to Score is odds-on and I can see why given Kosovo have scored in 18 of the 19 games they've played since that miserable World Cup qualifying campaign, with a 0-0 draw in Azerbaijan, way back in September last year in their opening Nations League match, being the only time they've drawn a blank in more than two years.

The three scored at St Mary's shows Kosovo won't be frightened to have a go at England on Sunday and I expect another free-flowing and entertaining game with plenty of goals again.

Odds of in excess of 2/1 for Over in the Over/Under 3.5 Goals have already been taken and anything around 6.05/1 for Over in the Over/Under 4.5 Goals will be a very fair price too.

Steve Rawlings Football P/L 2019/20

Staked: 23 pts
Returned: 28.67 pts
P/L: +5.67pts

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