Nick Pope creates piece of national team history

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England maintained their perfect start to 2022 World Cup qualification by running out 2-0 winners against Albania in Tirana this evening.

Gareth Southgate’s men began this latest World Cup qualification campaign with a comfortable 5-0 win over minnows San Marino at Wembley Stadium and they were levels above today’s opposition.

The visitors attempted no fewer than nine efforts to score. Skipper Harry Kane opened the scoring and in the process netted his 33rd international goal, leaving him eight away from leapfrogging Michael Owen and entering England’s top five on their all-time goalscorers list.

Kane, as he’s been doing so often in the Premier League this season, would turn provider for Mason Mount to net his fourth goal for the Three Lions. Naturally, there were individual winners and losers.

Winner: Harry Kane

You can’t keep a good centre-forward down and Kane is arguably the best around, with Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suárez his biggest rivals for the undisputed crown. Heading into this showdown the Tottenham marksman had last struck for England in November 2019 meaning he’d endure a six-game scoring drought.

That famine was ended seven minutes before the break, meaning he’s now scored in each of his last eight away qualifying matches (Euros and World Cup), which is the longest run by a Three Lions player. This particular effort also means Kane has now scored in 17 different stadiums, with only Michael Owen (25) and Wayne Rooney (27) netting at more different stadiums for England.

Loser: Berat Djimsiti

Playing from the back comes with considerable risk (see Fred against Leicester City in the FA Cup  recently). Berat Djimsiti must have wanted the ground to open up and swallow him after playing a role in England doubling their lead just after the hour mark. His nonchalant pass was cut out by Raheem Sterling, who quickly fed Kane and the Spurs man immediately teed up Mason Mount to delightfully slot past an onrusing Berisha.

Winner: Nick Pope

It’s often said possession is nine tenths of the law and Nick Pope must be feeling good right about now. The 28-year-old goalkeeper has now started three of England’s last five international fixtures, including their opening two World Cup qualification matches. A strong 2019/20 league campaign, which saw him keep 15 clean sheets for Burnley across 38 games, earned him Southgate’s full and undivided attention and Pope hasn’t looked back since. Today at the Arena Kombëtare stadium, he created a small piece of national team history. The Soham-born shot-stopper becomes the first England ‘keeper to concede no goals in his first six appearances. It was in truth a straightforward outing, though, as the Albanian forwards seldom forced him into action.

Loser: Edoardo Reja

Albania were thoroughly outclassed by England this evening, which must have been frustrating for head coach Edoardo Reja given they were on the cusp of making history themselves. Setting his side up in a 5-3-2 formation their game plan was clear but it never came anywhere near to being pulled off as Southgate’s men went about controlling the contest. Before today Shqiponjat (or the Eagles) had won their last four international matches, they have never won five consecutive international matches in their entire football history. That wait goes on.

Winner: Luke Shaw

It’s hard to believe Luke Shaw’s last outing for England came in September 2018, when Southgate’s men fell to a 1-2 defeat by Spain at the home of football. On that occasion the Manchester United left-back played a role in England’s opener when he assisted clubmate Marcus Rashford, but such has been the story of his career so far Shaw came off injured early into the second half.

The former Southampton academy graduate has since persevered, subsequently earning a recall following several months of high-calibre Premier League performances.

He couldn’t have put in a better showing given how England’s left-back spot is being strongly contested. Ben Chilwell and even Kieran Trippier have in recent matches played there under Southgate and now both have a fight on their hands. Shaw, earning his ninth cap, would again be pivotal in England breaking the deadlock. Another well-timed cross found Kane’s head leaving Etrit Berisha rooted on the spot, thus giving the full-back a fourth assist since making his international debut seven years ago.





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