San Marino 0 England 10
It was a night when it felt prudent at an early juncture to consult the record books. What was England’s biggest ever win? Because it was in real danger of being overhauled as Gareth Southgate’s team cut San Marino to shreds. In the end, the 13-0 victory over Ireland from 1882 would survive but this was a beating that even San Marino, the international game’s worst side, will remember for an awfully long time.
There had been a power cut a few hours before kick-off at the Olympic Stadium here, plunging everything into darkness, but it was superseded by an awesome surge, with Harry Kane, inevitably, leading the charge.
The England captain, who had begged Southgate to start him and got his wish, plundered four times in 15 minutes leading up to half-time, meaning that he moved to 48 international goals – five shy of Wayne Rooney’s record. On the back on his hat-trick against Albania, he became only the fourth England player to score three or more in consecutive appearances while he set a new mark for goals in a calendar year with 16.
There was a moment with about 10 minutes to go when the big screen, briefly, stopped showing the time, making those present wonder whether it was a ploy to stop things early. It was that painful for San Marino and it was a struggle to accommodate the names of all of England’s scorers.
England were always going to win to confirm direct qualification to the World Cup finals in Qatar next year but this was something else. There were first England goals for Emile Smith Rowe and Tyrone Mings and others for Harry Maguire, Tammy Abraham and Bukayo Saka, with an own goal thrown into the mix.
Southgate had wanted to make a statement with his lineup, showing that he meant business by including the Harrys, Maguire and Kane, but it was the 3-4-3 formation that spoke most loudly. Since the 2018 World Cup, the manager has tended to use a back three only against the bigger teams, when England would not necessarily dominate the ball and, as such, there had been surprise when he went with it for last Friday’s 5-0 home win over Albania. This was Southgate doubling down on the approach. If it was in place against San Marino, it was easy to feel that it was here to stay for Qatar.
Maguire has been productive in front of goal for England this year and he got things started with his fifth of 2021, a meaty header from Phil Foden’s corner, San Marino’s Motherwell-tribute shirts having parted obligingly.
England’s superiority all over the pitch was so pronounced that it was almost uncomfortable. Saka, the left wing-back, who played as an auxiliary winger, gave the San Marino right wing-back, Fabio Tomassini, a one-yard head start and emerged two in front after a short sprint. He toyed with everybody he came up against. Elsewhere in the early running, Maguire erred with a clearing header, sending it up and towards José Hirsch. He simply muscled over to him to prise it back, as if taking candy from a baby.
It was easy to fear the very worst for San Marino, especially when VAR made a surprise intervention midway through the first half. Foden had gone close with a scissor kick and nobody inside the stadium noticed anything untoward. But the all-seeing eye had spotted the ball slamming into the hand of Dante Rossi. “Fuck VAR,” came the cry from the crowd. And this was the England fans. Kane went up the middle for 3-0.
England’s second had come when Filippo Fabbri diverted a Saka effort into his own net and Kane was in no mood to show even the slightest bit of mercy. That is just not a part of his makeup. Smith Rowe, working to good effect up the inside left channel, cutback for Kane to steer a first-time shot inside the far corner and it was almost incongruous to see Aaron Ramsdale, on his debut, forced to make a scrambling save to deny Nicola Nanni on 33 minutes.
Kane’s second penalty was for a second handball, this one much more obvious by Alessandro D’Addario, and he duly walloped the kick into the roof of the net, while his fourth was lovely. He danced into heavy congestion inside the area and seemed to freeze-frame the San Marino defenders one by one with his quick feet. The finish was guided into the far corner.
Southgate made changes at half-time, reconfiguring to 4-4-2 with Conor Gallagher on for his debut in central midfield, and the question concerned whether England would twist the knife. It certainly felt like an ominous sign for San Marino when Kane hared back out while the half-time tunes were still banging.
As well as everything else, it was England's physicality that stood out. It was on another level, with Kalvin Phillips, for example, winning his challenges with consummate ease. San Marino players bounced off him until his withdrawal at half-time. It was men against boys, pros against non-leaguers – and at least a couple of steps down at that level.
One of the half-time changes, Abraham, lifted a good chance high before touching back cutely for Smith Rowe to ram home the seventh and every England player wanted to get in on the act. Gallagher should have scored from close range and, after Rossi was sent off for pulling him back, Mings met Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick for the eighth.
Jude Bellingham had a goal ruled out by VAR before Abraham and Saka made their mark. The only relief for San Marino was the final whistle. - Guardian