France beat Albania; Winks, Mount net first England goals in Kosovo rout - GulfToday

France beat Albania; Winks, Mount net first England goals in Kosovo rout


England’s Harry Winks (centre) vies for the ball with Kosovo’s Ibrahim Dresevic and Mergim Vojvoda during their Euro 2020 Group A qualifier on Sunday. Reuters

World champions France produced a fitting inaugural match in Albania’s newly-built Arena Kombetare stadium after goals from Corentin Tolisso and Antoine Griezmann gave them a 2-0 win in a Euro 2020 Group H qualifier on Sunday.

Having already booked their berth in next year’s 24-nation tournament, France finished top of the group on 25 points from 10 games, two ahead of second-placed Turkey who cruised to a 2-0 win at Andorra.

Albania, who had no chance of breaking into the top two, looked subdued in front of a passionate home crowd and UEFA dignitaries including the soccer governing body’s chief Aleksander Ceferin.

Tolisso fired the French into an eighth-minute lead when he headed home superbly inside the near post after Griezmann swung in an inviting free kick from the left.

Griezmann netted the second in the 31st minute when he turned in a sharp low cross by Leo Dubois, as the gulf in class between the two sides was everywhere to be seen in front of a capacity 22,000 crowd.

Turkey, who also sealed qualification with a match to spare, breezed past Andorra thanks to a first-half brace from striker Enes Unal.

In the group’s other fixture, Iceland eked out a 2-1 win in Moldova and although the Nordic nation failed to progress from the group, they will have another chance through the playoffs in March.

England rounded off an impressive campaign with a 4-0 thrashing of Kosovo.

Goals from Harry Winks, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount ensured England finished at the Group A summit, having scored 37 goals in just eight matches.

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.

“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,” said England manager Gareth Southgate.

Seven wins from eight games, 37 goals scored at a remarkable average of 4.6 per game, six conceded leaving a goal difference of 31 — qualification has never been in doubt.

But as Southgate himself acknowledged, the group was far from testing and it would be unwise to read too much into the thrashings that his team has handed out to modest opposition.

With the expanded size of tournaments making qualification much easier, the process for the traditional power-houses in the game is now as much about developing a squad and a style of play, than it is about simply picking up the necessary points.

Southgate is perfectly at ease with that process - his strengths so far have been in squad development, bringing in young players and building a tight team ethos.

But now he faces something new — genuine expectation of success from the public and media for a tournament which while played in 12 nations, will effectively be a home competition for England.

The semi-finals and final will be held at Wembley and after reaching the last four in last year’s World Cup in Russia, it would be a major letdown if Southgate’s side did not improve on that finish.

Southgate believes his side have progressed since the semi-final loss to Croatia in Moscow but hopes that, as with two years ago, his squad can come together even more in the final months of preparation.

The Czech Republic are also through, but lost 1-0 in Bulgaria on Sunday.

A stoppage time equaliser by late substitute Artem Besyedin gave Ukraine a 2-2 draw in Serbia after the home side led twice in an entertaining Euro 2020 Group B qualifier on Sunday.


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