San Marino v England: Steven Gerrard eyes early goal to release pressure

After injury withdrawals and the Ferdinand affair, even facing San Marino is not without pitfalls

As befits a man as diplomatic as Roy Hodgson, he gave the usual nod to the right of the Most Serene Republic of San Marino – to give tomorrow night's opposition their full name – to play international football. They were, Hodgson said, "part of the Uefa and Fifa family" and it was not the job of bigger nations to decide who should play in World Cup qualification.

Indeed, the England manager even went as far as to say that it would require the England team to be at their very best in the 7,000-capacity Serravalle Stadium to win a World Cup qualifier against the country ranked joint last of Fifa's 207 recognised nations. San Marino's all-time record of 111 defeats, three draws and one solitary win in 23 years would suggest that the reality is otherwise.

It was Hodgson's captain Steven Gerrard who put a more realistic aspect on the debate when he said that unless England won by four or five goals then questions would be asked. He is right. The students, barmen and shopkeepers who make up San Marino's national team, not forgetting the accountant, the fitness centre owner, the business consultant and the three professional footballers should, by any stretch of the imagination, prove no threat at all.

This being England, however, means that there is no such thing as a trouble-free international break. In an ideal world all would be serene in the Most Serene Republic, but, as Gerrard put it, "there's always an issue or an agenda around the games" and Rio Ferdinand's decision to fly to Qatar, having pulled out of the squad citing fitness concerns, was yesterday's problem du jour.

Follow all the action from tonight's match LIVE by clicking here.

Gerrard knows that these kind of opponents present problems of their own. He was in the England team that reached half-time of a Euro 2008 qualifier against Andorra in March 2007 in Barcelona with the score at 0-0 and the travelling support calling for the sacking of Steve McClaren. They eventually got their wish eight months later, but mercifully for England that night, Gerrard scored twice and the side prevailed 3-0.

At Wembley in October, it took England 35 minutes to break through the resistance of San Marino, a microstate that has a population of 31,000 – roughly equivalent to the population of the Liverpool district of Huyton, where Gerrard grew up. Although one suspects that if Huyton did declare itself independent and raise a team, it would have a better side than San Marino.

During those edgy 35 minutes at Wembley before Wayne Rooney's penalty set the team on the way to a 5-0 victory, the biggest concern was the clumsy nature of San Marino's defending. Theo Walcott was obliged to spend a night in hospital after a collision with the goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini, who was reckless in coming out to close down the ball and later gave away the penalty from which England scored.

It was a question of "attack versus defence" Gerrard said, with the onus all upon England to make the running. "The pressure's all on us," he said. "It's about us getting that breakthrough as early as we can. They're happy to stop us and keep the scoreline down. They'll slow the game down, give stupid fouls, get on to the referee, do anything they can to stop us scoring. If we don't win the game by more than four goals, we'll get it [criticism] anyway.

"We have the majority of the ball. Their tactics are to frustrate and slow it down. Even at Wembley we had possession and were creating chances, but we didn't have the first goal until the half-hour mark. The pressure was becoming more intense. In an ideal scenario, we'd score earlier and it would be released."

Hodgson has tried desperately to diffuse the Ferdinand situation by giving the appearance of a man who does not care that a player who would be of great use tomorrow night has decided his time is better spent flying seven and a half hours to the Middle East to be a TV pundit. In fairness to the England manager, once Ferdinand withdrew on Monday he had little control over what he did next and will have to draw his own conclusions about the player's commitment.

Without the Manchester United player, as well as the two other defensive withdrawals, Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill, the England manager has little option but to pick Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling as his two most experienced centre-backs. It would appear Leighton Baines will take over duties at left-back from Ashley Cole, who is a booking away from a one-match ban.

In midfield, Gerrard is expected to start alongside Michael Carrick, who Hodgson said he was not considering as an emergency centre-half in spite of the lack of experience in his two back-ups for that position, Steven Caulker and the uncapped Steven Taylor. Lescott is also one booking away from missing the high-stakes qualifier against Montenegro on Tuesday but Hodgson said he could not allow that to cloud his thinking.

In fact, the England manager was remarkably relaxed about his approach, observing that "formations are always overly exaggerated" and giving the impression that he expects the superior quality of his players to be telling. "There are games when you go in as the underdog and that releases the pressure valve," he said. "In others there's no pressure valve to be released because everyone expects you to win the game handsomely. They're the harder games to play, in some respect. San Marino will be like that."

As ever with England, even games against opposition as trifling as San Marino are approached with trepidation and over-stated notions of "respect". But given the team's history for chaos, as the Ferdinand issue only served to reinforce, those involved tend not to take anything for granted.

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own