Weblog: The football punter

Three Lions primed for big win in Southampton

ITV, 7.45pm Tuesday

England have not dropped points in a European Championship qualifier since drawing 2-2 in Montenegro in October 2011 and their serene start to Group A should continue with a comfortable victory over Kosovo at the St Mary's Stadium.

Something will have to give on the south coast because both sides can point to impressive statistics.

The Three Lions have won 13 successive European Championship qualifiers while Kosovo are bidding to extend a 15-match unbeaten sequence.

Kosovo briefly topped the group after winning 2-1 at home to the Czech Republic on Saturday and will go back there if they win this first meeting with England.

They are playing with the confidence of a young nation who refuse to set a limit put on their ambitions and have made stunning progress since losing nine successive World Cup qualifiers in 2016 and 2017.

The building blocks for their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign were established by some impressive results in last year's Nations League.

Kosovo took full advantage of weak opposition by finishing top of their group in League D, winning four and drawing two of their six matches.

European Championship qualifying was expected to be much tougher but Bernard Challandes's side have risen to the challenge by taking eight points from a possible 12.

Victories in Bulgaria and at home to the Czechs have established them as genuine contenders for a top-two finish but any thoughts of challenging England are likely to be ruthlessly extinguished by Gareth Southgate's side.

Kosovo danger men: three players to watch
England have looked on a different level from their Group A rivals and defeated Bulgaria 4-0 on Saturday despite barely getting out of first gear in the opening half.

They will have to stay focused because Kosovo have some talented attacking players.

Floating forward Bersant Celina is growing in stature at Swansea, scoring twice this season, and is probably talented enough to play in the Premier League.

Celina has an eye for a pass and will be looking to pick out centre-forward Vedat Muqiri, who netted 17 goals for Caykur Rizespor in the Turkish top flight last season, earning himself a summer move to Istanbul giants Fenerbahce.

Kosovo have scored in each of their last ten games although they may struggle to find a way past Jordan Pickford in the absence of injured midfielders Milot Rashica and Benjamin Kololli, who usually provide a lot of their creativity.

And they will probably need to score because defence does not look their strong point.

In their short period on the international stage Kosovo have played ten World Cup qualifiers and four European Championship qualifiers and have not kept a clean sheet in any of them.

They rode their luck against the Czechs on Saturday – losing the shot count 12 to ten – and are unlikely to be let off the hook by England, who have one of the most exciting attacks in international football.

Southgate could make a few changes but, given the importance of the game, it is highly unlikely that key men Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling will be stood down.

Against Bulgaria he waited until the result was beyond doubt before turning to his bench and a similar approach may be taken against Kosovo, who could be swept aside by a wide margin.

Best bet
England -2.5 on Asian handicap

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