Keane and Pickford In England Thriller

Everton duo Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane completed 90 minutes as England survived a Kosovo fightback to emerge on top of a bonkers European Championship qualifying match in Southampton.

England had already twice scored five goals in qualifying – and four against Bulgaria. This though, bore little resemblance to Saturday’s straightforward beating of the Bulgarians.

Nor did a topsy-turvy contest, laced with quality and inexplicable lapses in equal measure, share much in common with the five-goal wins over Montenegro and Czech Republic which began England’s bid to reach the 2020 finals.

Kosovo were ambitious in possession and pretty nerveless, too, going by the way Valon Berisha swept the visitors into a first-minute lead.

Keane leapt to set up Raheem Sterling’s eighth-minute equaliser, the Toffees defender directing Ross Barkley’s right-wing corner back across goal for Sterling to convert.

Pickford, who was helpless to prevent Lazio midfielder Berisha’s opener, had little to concern him as England assumed a grip on the contest.

The Everton goalkeeper’s distribution was flawless, however, and the same could be said for Keane when he chipped forward to find Harry Kane seven minutes before the break.

Keane and midfielder Barkley had got themselves in a pickle prior to Berisha scoring but the Everton defender’s confidence grew following his involvement in the leveller.

He didn’t consider dumping the ball out of play with Kosovo left-back Fidan Aliti on the turf and demanding a halt to the action.

Kane’s train of though was similar. So, too, that of Jadon Sancho when Kane fed the Borussia Dortmund player to dribble into the box.

Right-back Mergim Vojvoda had retreated but was in an awkward position when Sancho crossed and involuntarily nudged the ball home.

Vojvoda had advanced to shoot into the side netting from distance 60 seconds earlier.

But England were 2-1 up at that stage.

Their authority was reflected in the manner Keane, Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson and Sancho played out of a tight spot on 18 minutes.

And one minute later, Sterling exploited Kosovo centre-back Amir Rrahmani’s ill-judged rush to halfway.

The England player spun, completely eliminating over-committed away captain Rrahmani, and sped forward to find Kane.

He took two touches with his right foot and then one with his left to drill through the legs of goalkeeper Arijanet Muric.

Keane twice defended well to snuff out Kosovo attacks in his own box and was frequently on the right end of his aerial duel with imposing forward Vedat Muriqi.

The centre-back soared above all-comers to meet a Ben Chilwell corner 10 minutes before the break but could not get over the ball sufficiently to trouble Muric.

England’s fourth goal on 44 minutes resulted from some fabulous work by the exceptional Rice.

He scrapped for possession in his own half before feeding Henderson, who found Sterling to release Sancho for an emphatic finish.

Forward Sancho gave the scoreline a flattering look in first-half stoppage time when he tapped in after Sterling’s initial effort – following more trickery to deceive and escape Rrahmani – was parried by Muric.

Kosovo, though, remained wedded to their bright attacking philosophy, continuing to align fast and incisive passing with fluid movement.

England were nevertheless culpable in the two goals their opponents scored inside six minutes after the restart.

The hosts surrendered possession in midfield, enabling Muriqi to dash down the right and float a lovely ball across for Berisha.

He cut onto his right foot and bent a fabulous finish beyond Pickford.

Muriqi then picked himself up after being rapped on his ankles in the box by Harry Maguire and – following a lengthy debate with Berisha – struck from the spot.

Pickford dived full length to his left and got a hand to the ball. He was furious with himself for not repelling the attacker's effort but blameless nonetheless.

The penalty award was strongly contested by England. And Kosovo felt equally wronged when Rrahmani was punished for a push on Barkley.

Kane, twice successful from 12 yards at the weekend, was denied here – Muric guessing the striker would go left and seeing his numbers come up when Kane’s penalty thudded into the goalkeeper’s airborne frame.

Kane would have had redemption on 73 minutes but for the width of a post. The England captain overpowered Besar Halimi to turn over possession and slide a pass left for Sterling, whose low drive cannoned off the woodwork.

Their four-goal deficit halved, though, Kosovo continued to apply pressure in search of another to really set England on edge.

Keane was integral to his side’s defensive effort, largely keeping the away team at a safe distance.

Bersant Celina was perilously close with a curling effort on 87 minutes, shortly after substitute Marcus Rashford had a goalbound attempt repelled by Muric.

England saw the game out - but for once in a qualifying match, they knew they'd been in one.

Elsewhere, Everton left-back Lucas Digne started and finished France’s routine 3-0 European Championship qualifying win over Andorra.

This was a night when Iceland conceded some ground to Digne’s France and Cenk Tosun’s Turkey in the race for places at next year’s tournament.

Gyfli Sigurdsson was on target for the Icelanders but powerless to prevent them from going down 4-2 in Albania.

Everton midfielder Sigurdsson struck with a neat right-footed finish two minutes after half-time to equalise Kastriot Dermaku’s 32nd-minute strike.

Kolbein Sigthorsson supplied the visitors’ second equaliser, six minutes after Albania’s lead had been restored by right-back Elseid Hysaj on 52 minutes.

Iceland’s resistance was broken by two goals in four minutes late in the game, Odise Roshi’s 79th minute goal followed in quick order by a strike from Sokol Cikalleshi.

Tosun scored once in each half to propel Turkey to a valuable 4-0 win in Moldova.

The Everton centre-forward broke the deadlock with a rising right-footed blast eight minutes before half-time.

He netted his second with his head on 79 minutes to make the score 3-0 following midfielder Deniz Turuc’s effort 12 minutes after the break.

Yusuf Yazici applied the gloss with two minutes remaining.

Kingsley Coman, Clement Lenglet and Wissam Ben Yedder scored France’s goals in Paris.

France and Turkey have a three-point advantage over Iceland at the top of qualifying Group H.

Everton new boy Alex Iwobi played 70 minutes of Nigeria’s 2-2 friendly draw in Ukraine.

Iwobi teed up Joe Aribo to put the Nigerians in front on four minutes. And Iwobi’s side went into the break with a two-goal advantage after Victor Osimhen converted from the spot.

Ukraine scored twice inside two minutes following Iwobi’s withdrawal. Roman Yaremchuk levelled on 79 minutes, 60 seconds after Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko had pounced from close range to give his side hope.

Seamus Coleman was given the night off by Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy as the Irish defeated Bulgaria 3-1 in a Dublin friendly.

Moise Kean, meanwhile, scored from the spot as Italy Under-21s launched their European Championship qualifying campaign with a 5-0 drubbing of Luxembourg.

Everton striker Kean, who played the opening 45 minutes at Castel Di Sangro’s Stadio Teofilo Patini, was on target eight minutes before the break, adding to midfielder Manuel Locatelli’s earlier penalty.

Italy were out of sight when Riccardo Sottil struck 17 minutes after half-time, with Marco Tumminello and Gianluca Scamacca completing the rout.

In Poland, Everton youngster Lewis Dobbin was on target in the decisive shootout as England Under-17s defeated the hosts on penalties to win the Syrenka Cup tournament.

England, who defeated Finland and Austria to reach the final, were two goals to the good inside 10 minutes.

Poland hit back with two goals before the interval to draw level.

Dobbin replaced Barcelona hotshot Louie Barry with 10 minutes remaining but the sides could not be separated in open play.

The Everton forward scored England’s first penalty after Poland had missed their opener, paving the way for Kevin Betsy’s team to seal a 3-1 shootout success.

 

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