San Marino 0 England 8 match report: Clinical England crush pointless minnows in World Cup qualifier


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The Independent Football

There are few things as absurd in international football as the San Marino football team but when all is said and done, the students, teachers, business consultants, gym owners and accountants have to be beaten and, let's be honest, they have to be beaten well.

Last night, England did not get as far as their record victory of 13-0 over Ireland in 1882, but at times it looked like they might and there was never any doubt that this scoreline would be, in the context of the opposition, respectable. Five goals up at half-time and with a crisp passing tempo keeping the Sanmarinese chasing it took England less time to breakthrough than it had done in the home fixture at Wembley in October.

The eight-goal margin made it the biggest ever in a World Cup qualifier, eclipsing the 9-2 win over Northern Ireland in 1949. It was the biggest winning margin in any game since Turkey in 1987. In fact, the question that begged itself more than once watching San Marino was: have the team that has lost 112 of the 116 games in its history actually got worse?

These games are utterly pointless and any sensible governing body would introduce a pre-qualifying competition for the microstates and mini-principalities. Unfortunately, it is only going to get worse in that respect with Gibraltar close to gaining international recognition from Uefa and Fifa, and their population is even less than that of San Marino.

The game was notable for the freedom with which England scored and professional manner in which they went about it, especially with Frank Lampard dominant in midfield and directing the demolition for the first 56 minutes when he was withdrawn. Also impossible to ignore was the hostility from the large travelling support directed at Rio Ferdinand.

While Ferdinand was telling English football where it is going wrong from a studio in Doha, the supporters in Serravalle made it quite clear that they thought he had abandoned the national team. They may not always bring the most exacting judgement to bear on issues around the side, but they seemed pretty sure about Ferdinand. They do not want him back in an England team.

In Moldova, however, England’s opponents on Tuesday, Montenegro, maintained their two point lead in qualifying group H over Roy Hodgson’s team with another win. At least England escaped last night without any unnecessary injuries or suspensions that will be brought to bear on Tuesday in Podgorica.

Earlier in the day Theo Walcott had had a scan on a groin problem that means he will also miss the World Cup qualifier against Montenegro on Tuesday. Hodgson left Steven Gerrard out the side last night, as well as Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson, Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck from those who might ordinarily be expected to play.

In the case of Johnson, the Liverpool right-back was not even named among the England substitutes raising the possibility that he is not completely fit. Fortunately for Hodgson, right-back is one position he does not have to worry about.

It was with seven defenders that San Marino started the game, or at least gave the appearance of having done so with their usual five augmented by the nominal wing-backs tucking in on either side. They ceded the entirety of England’s half to their opponents, pushing up only as far as the halfway line and set themselves for the siege.

Breaking down the part-timers, and the occasional professional, in San Marino’s team can be a laborious task. The key is to make them run and run and then demolish them as the legs start to wobble. To give them their due, England did that very well.

They used Leighton Baines effectively, breaking out of the centre of midfield to release him down the left where the Everton left-back found acres of space to run into. England had already hit the bar on ten minutes, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on this occasion, before Baines’ cross on 12 minutes was turned into his own net by the centre-half Alessandro Della Valle, an accountant by profession.

And so the goals came, along with, in the first part of the game, an extraordinary number of corners which England struggled to make count. Where the team benefited most was in the quick interchanges in and around the box. That was where the second goal came from in 28 minutes. Oxlade-Chamberlain exchanged passes with Wayne Rooney and nimbly found space before scoring.

Jermain Defoe was caught offside before he scored England’s third goal, a downward header from Oxlade-Chamberlain to the Spurs striker who tapped it home. The best of the five first half goals was a full-blooded strike from Ashley Young out in the left channel that went in off the underside of the San Marino bar.

Oxlade-Chamberlain had played well given the space to run at opponents and with success his confidence grew. Lampard and Tom Cleverley kept the ball moving which meant that their opponents were never able to settle behind the ball. Lampard scored the fifth, four minutes before half-time when Rooney stepped over Baines’ cross and Lampard, captain for the night, slipped the ball past Aldo Simoncini.

Daniel Sturridge, Leon Osman and Scott Parker were all introduced over the course of the second half. Rooney came off before the hour having curled in a free-kick, his 34th goal for his country which takes him to within 15 of Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time record. Sturridge scored the seventh after Young’s cross from the left.

At six goals down, San Marino won a corner yet still chose not to commit as many forwards as they could have done – a bizarre decision given that another goal for England would have made little difference while a goal for the home team would have meant everything.

Walker cut the ball back for Defoe to score the eighth goal. The Tottenham striker, not exactly shot-shy at the best of times, was keen on getting as many as he could and had a good chance for the hat-trick which he clipped wide of the San Marino post.

For England, eight was just about right. What San Marino get out of games such as there it is impossible to tell. The Swiss referee did not even bother to play time added on at the end of the game. By then he seemed to have judged that the home side had had enough.