Kosovo's three goals a wake-up call for England: Neil Humphreys
Southgate must fix defence or they'll suffer at Euro 2020
The Three Lions are messing with us. They are turning conventional cliche upside down.
They are turning their own history upside down.
Never mind a game of two halves. England are a line-up of two halves.
They can't stop scoring at one end. They can't stop conceding at the other, as if compelled to take us on a psychedelic trip, somewhere between delirium and daftness.
This isn't England. This isn't trophy-winning football either.
The Three Lions' surreal 5-3 victory over Kosovo yesterday morning (Singapore time) was more than a wake-up call for Gareth Southgate.
It was a Wembley marching band, complete with cymbals crashing across the head of the bewildered England manager.
Silverware contenders don't defend like this. Blindfolded toddlers playing piggy in the middle don't defend like this.
And yet, at the other end, there was a decent stab at samba, with young, swift forwards swaying to a hypnotic beat that was distinctly un-English.
It doesn't make sense.
Traditionally, England were easy to understand.
Their football was no-nonsense and rarely flamboyant.
They lifted a World Cup with wingless wonders, leaving the Swinging Sixties to The Beatles rather than fullbacks.
Three fast forwards was a Brazilian philosophy or a French fancy. The English were typically 4-4-2 with a formation stiff enough to suggest the players' jerseys still had their metal hangers attached.
And yet, through the interminable failures, the Three Lions always had their definitive English myth at the back.
He was the defiant bulldog, raised on the Dunkirk spirit, occasionally soaked in blood and utterly impenetrable.
He was the fist-pumping, vein-bulging, header-winning, hard-tackling gatekeeper of his country. He was Jack Charlton, Terry Butcher, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Sol Campbell and John Terry.
He was the omnipresent England centre-back.
He kept his head when others lost theirs, the one constant in an inconsistent squad.
Whatever else, the Three Lions always produced reliable centre-backs.
But that cliche has left the building, taking England's defensive confidence with it.
Kosovo are 120th in Fifa's rankings and scored three more goals than they had probably expected. Montenegro also found the net in an earlier Group A qualifier (and between both games, Holland knocked in three against England in the Nations League).
Of course, statistics can be cherry-picked. England have also scored 19 goals in four Euro 2020 qualifiers and have not lost a qualifier since October 2009.
But those statistics only reinforce the increasing pointlessness of European qualification as the continent continues to fragment, creating more nations eager to participate, but less competition for the big boys.
England have allowed the smokescreen of easy qualification campaigns to mask underlying weaknesses; namely, an inability to snuff out simple attacks, reduce individual mistakes and stop making the wrong decisions at the wrong times.
The most exciting forward line in a generation is hamstrung by an error-prone back four.
Can anyone recall an England defence that shipped so many poor goals?
Southgate, clearly exasperated, rightly refused to blame his attacking approach, with England constantly pressing from the back, because Kosovo's goals came from schoolboy blunders.
Michael Keane attempted a sideways pass to Harry Maguire in the first minute, but instead threaded the perfect ball to Kosovo striker Vedat Muriqi.
The Everton defender was also culpable when Montenegro scored in their 5-1 defeat by England in March. Both incidents presumably rule out a long-term partnership with Maguire.
Ironically, they are similar players, the archetypal England centre-backs of yore, not overly quick, but decisive in the tackle and uncompromising in the air.
Neither man reads the play as effectively as the injured John Stones.
Against Kosovo, Maguire failed to clear a cross, panicked and tripped Muriqi in the box.
Meanwhile, a loose pass from Declan Rice led to Kosovo's other goal. All three resulted from England mistakes.
All three were avoidable.
Unusually, Southgate is spoilt for choice up front, but he is at least a centre-back short in defence, perhaps even two, ensuring that England fixtures have the frenetic, high-scoring feel of exhibition matches.
Another qualification procession will end in bitter disappointment at the tournament if the holes in a porous defence aren't filled.
The Three Lions are like kids sneakily eating chocolate in bed.
At some point, they will get found out and there is absolutely no chance of a clean sheet.