Dominant England sink woeful San Marino but real test awaits

HAD Roy Hodgson last night caught the tube to Wembley rather than arrived with the rest of the England party by coach, he might have thought twice before giving an honest opinion on the game that lay in store.

His embarrassment over a private conversation concerning Rio Ferdinand that the England manager held with a group of fans en route to watching Arsenal in Champions League action a week or so earlier would have seen to that.

A number of those making their way up the Metropolitan Line towards the national stadium were, however, far less reticent with the phrases ‘waste of time’, ‘where the hell is San Marino?’ and ‘this lot are so bad they wouldn’t even get in the Conference’ being among the most popular to be given an airing. And these were fans who had shelled out their hard-earned money on tickets to watch the football team FIFA rank as 207th – and joint last – in the world take on England.

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Such a reaction was understandable with Giampolo Mazza’s side being every bit as awful as their record of just one win in 112 games before last night’s encounter suggested.

To make matters worse, that solitary victory came in a friendly versus Liechtenstein – meaning San Marino still await their first competitive win and on the evidence of last night, that woefully inept record is unlikely to improve any time soon.

A team including a furniture salesman, several students and a bank clerk were put to the sword – eventually – by a Three Lions side who spent the entire 90 minutes camped in the visitors’ half of the field.

Not, however, that England had it all their own way with it taking until the 34th minute for the opening goal to arrive courtesy of Wayne Rooney’s trusty right boot.

Before that, the hosts had laboured for long periods with an apparent intention to pass the ball through the sea of blue shirts that doubled as the San Marino defence meaning the expected flurry of goals took time to arrive.

The theory before kick-off had been that goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini’s day job as an accountant would come in handy in terms of keeping up with the avalanche of goals that would be flying into the visitors net.

Instead, the 26-year-old, once beaten 13 times by Germany in a particularly harrowing Euro 2008 qualifier, was so rarely tested in the opening half hour that he could have spent the time filling in his annual tax returns.

Only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with a dipping third-minute shot tested Simoncini during an insipid opening third as England spent most of their time making pretty passing routines that continually went nowhere. The Three Lions finally snapped out of their slumber courtesy of two goals in three minutes just before the break.

Rooney’s typically assured penalty broke the deadlock after Danny Welbeck had been flattened by Simoncini as the striker attempted to race on to a delightful through ball.

Welbeck then added a second on 37 minutes with a delightful finish after being picked out by Aaron Lennon and after that it was merely a matter of how many goals Hodgson’s men would score.

With the vast majority of the San Marino side being part-time, tiredness was always going to be a factor in the closing stages.

Sure enough, Rooney finally made the territorial dominance pay on 70 minutes with a drilled 20-yard shot that took the stand-in captain to fifth in the all-time list of England goalscorers with 31.

A little over 60 seconds later, Welbeck converted a Tom Cleverley cross from close range before Oxlade-Chamberlain curled an unstoppable shot beyond Simoncini to make it 5-0.

It was enough to earn the Arsenal youngster the honour of being the fourth youngest player to score for England behind Rooney, Michael Owen and Tommy Lawton. That apart, San Marino’s second visit to Wembley will hardly be a night to tell the grandchildren about in years to come.

Such was the one-sided nature of the ‘contest’ that serious questions really do have to be asked as to why San Marino and their ilk are allowed to clutter up an already fit-to-bursting schedule for Europe’s top footballers.

Certainly, it is difficult to envisage a more pointless exercise than last night’s qualifier, whose result was in so little doubt that most bookmakers refused to offer odds on a home win.

From an England perspective, of course, it is always nice to score some goals. And the sell-out 84,654 crowd got a handful of those.

But will Hodgson’s side really go into Tuesday’s qualifier against Poland in any more confident a mood thanks to beating a side ranked alongside the Turks & Caicos Islands? Unlikely.

England: Hart; Walker, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines; Cleverley, Carrick (Shelvey 67); Walcott (Lennon 10), Rooney (Carroll 73), Oxlade-Chamberlain; Welbeck. Unused substitutes: Cole, Ruddy, Lescott, Shawcross, Milner, A Johnson, Defoe, Forster.

San Marino: A Simoncini; F Vitaiolo (Bacciocchi 84), D Simoncini, Della Valle, Brolli; Coppini (Buscarini 76), Cervellini; Gasperoni, Cibelli, Palazzi; Danilo (Selva 79). Unused substitutes: Valentini, Bollini, Marani, Mazza, Vannucci, M Vitaoili.

Referee: G Mazeika (Lithuania).