England cruise with one eye on Montenegro
England ease through as sevendifferent players get on the scoresheet
Wayne Rooney of England celebrates his goal with Ashley Young. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Date: 22 March, 2013
Venue: San Marino
Not an easy game, Roy Hodgson had claimed beforehand. Perhaps the England manager had his fingers crossed beneath the table as he said it.
Maybe it was just professional niceties or a ploy to guard against any form of complacency. All that can really be said with certainty is that this was a mismatch on an epic scale – David versus Goliath – and David had his backside kicked.
For long spells it felt like an FA Cup tie between a side of market-town inadequates against a team of Premier League champions. Except in the FA Cup there is always meant to be that element of surprise.
San Marino’s own giant-killing exploits are restricted to a 1-0 win against Liechtenstein nine years ago and, if England had really been feeling ruthless, they could have won by an even more lopsided score.
If you like goals, this was a turkey shoot of some rarity. If it was an authentic contest you were after, it was a fairly pointless spectacle. As for the vitriolic chants about Rio Ferdinand that formed the soundtrack to the evening, it is a sad footnote to an international career encompassing 81 caps.
England, nonetheless, will have enjoyed the chance to massage their goal difference with a gentle workout. Jermain Defoe scored twice and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge were all on the scoresheet, to go with an early own-goal.
Montenegro’s win in Moldova is a setback but England will head to Podgorica in decent spirits and none of the players a booking away from suspension did anything to warrant a yellow card. It tends to be that way when the opposition cannot get the ball.
San Marino have now lost 58 qualifying matches in succession. They have not scored a goal in a competitive fixture since 2008 and have accumulated the grand total of two points out of a possible 321.
[/CROSSHEAD]The worst-ranked team on Fifa’s list, with precisely zero ranking points, brought out the marching band, put on a crossbow demonstration of sorts and did not seem to mind ticketless fans watching from the trees behind each goal.
But when it comes to a sporting contest it would have been fairer if England had offered to give their opponents a couple of ringers. San Marino, put bluntly, are to international football what Eric Moussambani is to Olympic swimming.
By the time Alessandro Della Valle turned in Leighton Baines’s cross to burst the dam 12 minutes in, Oxlade-Chamberlain had already lobbed one shot against the crossbar and the theme of the night – attack versus defence – was firmly established.
It was an evening when every touch from England’s goalkeeper, Joe Hart, brought ironic cheers. The first, after 25 minutes, was to collect a loose ball and play it out to the byline so Chris Smalling could take a throw-in. By that stage it was becoming increasingly obvious that Hart’s kit would barely need a rinse. Hart waved to the crowd and smiled knowingly. For long spells he could have pulled up a stool and opened up a newspaper.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was playing because of the groin injury that means Theo Walcott will also miss Tuesday’s game in Montenegro. It was an experimental team – for starters, Hodgson had left Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole out of his starting line-up to make sure they were in the best shape for England’s next assignment.
But a manager can do that when the opposition is this moderate and, ultimately, he could have selected any permutation of his players and won.
England’s ruthlessness had subsided a little by the time Rooney curled in a free-kick to make it 6-0. At that stage they were barely bothering to celebrate their goals.