PRISTINA (AFP) – Gareth Southgate believes England still have room for improvement despite the “ruthless” 4-0 rout of Kosovo late last Sunday night that ensured they will be among the top six seeds at Euro 2020.
Southgate’s side booked their Euro 2020 berth by thrashing Montenegro 7-0 last Thursday and they finished a dominant qualifying campaign by dispatching Kosovo in Pristina thanks to goals from Harry Winks, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount.
Although England weren’t at their best, it was a rewarding finale for the Group A winners, who clinched the high seeding that should help them avoid a tough group in the finals.
Winks’ maiden England goal, in his sixth appearance, was the key moment before second-half strikes from Kane and Rashford and Mount’s first international goal.
With all three of their Euro 2020 group games and the semi-finals and final being played at home for England, the 2018 World Cup semi-finalists will go into the November 30 draw as one of the main contenders for the trophy.
But, while he was happy with their attacking play, Southgate insisted his team must sharpen up at the back.
“It was a tight game and a good test for us. It was a difficult pitch, with players slipping and passes going astray,” Southgate said.
“We gave them chances. On another night that would be a problem. The set-plays in particular are something we have to look at. There have been too many people free in the box.
“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. We’re more settled with the group now.”
The loudest cheers were reserved for Sterling, who was back in the England team after the winger was dropped against Montenegro following his clash with Liverpool’s Joe Gomez in the canteen of England’s training base last Monday.
Southgate believes the controversy over that bust-up has brought England’s squad closer together.
“I think that you have to work through any difficulties you have and the whole group have done that really well. We come out of this stronger than we started it, frankly,” he said.
Winks supplied the breakthrough in the 32nd minute when the Tottenham midfielder ran onto Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass, evaded the obligingly slow-to-react Kosovo defence and slotted home with ease.
Throughout a comfortable qualifying campaign, the main concern for Southgate has been England’s erratic defending and they were nearly exposed when Amir Rrahmani was left unmarked to head just wide early in the second half.
Rrahmani then found himself in acres of space again but headed woefully wide.
England’s class told in the second half and Kane hit the post with a snap-shot from Sterling’s pass.
The same pair linked up for a milestone second goal in the 79th minute.
Sterling eased past his marker and sent in a deflected cross that England captain Kane finished off at the far post.