Rooney leads the turkey shoot as San Marino settle for a nice night out
England 5 San Marino 0
Nine very tired men lined up on the edge of their penalty area, all of them secretly wondering if they could get to Wayne Rooney at the final whistle to exchange shirts. This was not what international football is supposed to be about.
Yes, it was an ugly, strange old game but for that you can blame San Marino rather than England. The worst international team in the world – and that's official – did not muster a shot on target and even more bizarre, they did not make a substitution until the 75th minute although their game was all about trying to match England physically.
Ranked joint 207th in the Fifa list, joint bottom with Bhutan and the Turks and Caicos Islands, San Marino were bloody awful. If ever there was an argument for Uefa introducing pre-qualification then it was this. It was not like a FA Cup third-round tie because at least a lower-league club that gets that far has earned their place. It was not a brave effort from the students, accountants and teachers; it was pointless.
Playing against a team way below the capabilities of an elite side also took its toll with an early challenge on Theo Walcott by goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini that could best be described as reckless, at worst plain stupid. Walcott spent last night in hospital and you have to wonder whether it was worth it.
For what? San Marino got their night out at Wembley without having shown any discernible improvement from the last time these two countries met in 1993, unless you count a slightly smaller margin of victory for England. This is not about a country trying to develop its football or improve, it is about players and officials having a nice evening at Wembley and a vote at Uefa congress.
The 0-0 draw between Moldova and Ukraine last night damages Ukraine, who got a point at Wembley last month, and thus was a good result for England. A win against Poland in Warsaw on Tuesday will put England in charge of Group H although it will be a much greater challenge than last night. It took 35 minutes for Roy Hodgson's side to score their first goal but there was never any doubt it would come.
For Rooney, who scored twice, the first from the penalty spot, there was a move up to fifth place in the all-time England goalscorers' chart above Alan Shearer, Tom Finney and Nat Lofthouse. He is on 31 now, nine behind Michael Owen in fourth. There was also a first international goal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Danny Welbeck scored two. England should have had many more.
Curiously, the matchball was delivered for kick-off by the Royal Marines who, instead of taking the obvious option and bringing it in through reception, abseiled in from the roof to the tune of "Mission: Impossible". You got the impression this would not have happened if the opposition had been a bit further up the Fifa rankings.
And so it began. San Marino playing a 9-1 formation and England camped out in their opponents' half passing and probing their way forward. Joe Hart touched the ball for the first time on 15 minutes and a cheer rang out around the game. The Sammarinese ran down every England attack they could and up front their lone striker Ezequiel Rinaldi Danilo looked like an Under-8 marooned in an Under-18s game.
A brief précis of the first half went thus: lots of chances for England, some of which struck post and bar. For San Marino, there were not so many. They made it out of their half occasionally and had a free-kick at one point but there was no incursion that made you think that England's back four was probably two defenders too many.
England ran into the usual problems of trying to be too intricate in picking their way through the nine men ranged on the edge of the San Marino area. After Simoncini's challenge on Walcott, the winger was replaced by Aaron Lennon, his first cap since the Algeria group game at the 2010 World Cup finals.
England looked at their best when they got the likes of Leighton Baines and Lennon free down the wings, rather than the times they got tangled up in the crowd of players on the edge of the area. There was a moment of some excitement on 33 minutes when Michael Carrick hit the bar and then, from the deflected rebound, Welbeck struck the post.
Wembley went a bit quiet for a while but no-one was in any doubt which way the game was going. Welbeck was tripped by the goalkeeper Simoncini who reached out a hand and caught his foot on 35 minutes. Rooney, in the absence of Frank Lampard, did a very nice job of the penalty. He looked relieved, although his 12-year-old self could probably have held his own against this lot.
Welbeck got the second three minutes later with a slick finish with the inside of his trailing boot on Lennon's cross from the right. It was very similar to the goal he scored against Sweden at Euro 2012.
San Marino gathered themselves at half-time and for the first 25 minutes of the second half threw everything they could in the way of England. Although most of the time it was a lack of sharpness in front of goal from the home side that saved the visitors. Then, with San Marino gradually tiring, and no sign of a substitute, England broke through again.
Rooney hit a shot from the edge of the area where, previously, San Marino had been able to close him down. Two minutes later, Welbeck nicked the ball in from a Tom Cleverley cross from the right side. For the fifth, Oxlade-Chamberlain took Cleverley's ball inside the area and bent a shot over Simoncini and into the left side of the goalkeeper's net.
There had been a break by the ever-optimistic Danilo on 66 minutes and he got a big cheer when he struck a wild shot that was only vaguely in the direction of Hart's goal. It was the night for that sort of generosity from a home crowd numbering 84,654, an indication of the remarkable appetite for live sport in this country. What they witnessed was something of a novelty but it did not feel like football and it certainly was not the kind of international football that we cherish.
Man of match Rooney.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee G Mazeika (Lithuania).
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