While a shot at European glory on home soil is just months away, the main focus right now is the road to Qatar and the 2018 semi-finalists took a simple first step towards next year’s tournament.
It was always going to be a case of how many England would score against San Marino rather than the outcome at empty Wembley, where Southgate did not get the ruthless edge he called for despite running out 5-0 winners.
“I was really pleased with not only the way we moved the ball quickly and the interchange of positions, but the way we pressed when we lost the ball highlighted the mentality of the team for the whole 90 minutes,” said Southgate.
“Of course it’s an opponent we should beat but I thought they went about their job really well.
“I thought the midfield players moved the ball really well. Kalvin Phillips, I was really pleased for him. He’s used the ball well but his athleticism around the pitch was good.
“Mason (Mount) in the first half was excellent, set the tone. Good to see Jesse (Lingard) look like he’s enjoying his football again so I thought there were a lot of good things.”
Southampton skipper James Ward-Prowse opened the scoring – and his international account – against the side ranked 210th and last in the world before Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed home.
Raheem Sterling, captaining the side in the absence of the rested Harry Kane, added a deflected third, which would be all England managed in the first half despite getting away 22 shots.
Poor finishing and fine saves from inspired San Marino goalkeeper Elia Benedettini kept the scoreline down, just as it did in the second half.
Rejuvenated Jesse Lingard marked his international return with an assist for former Sheffield United striker Calvert-Lewin, whose replacement Watkins coolly opened his own international account as the clock wound down.
After days of discussions, England presented a unified front against discrimination by taking the knee before a match that saw Southgate – in his 50th game in charge – return to a four-man backline. It was one-way traffic from the outset. Calvert-Lewin somehow spurned the chance to score a sixth-minute opener when he failed to connect cleanly with a Reece James cross, and Sterling twice headed off target.
Lingard, winning his first cap since June 2019, was denied from 25 yards by a fine stop by Benedettini, who will have been as relieved as he was surprised when another returning player missed moments later.
John Stones somehow scooped over the San Marino goal from six yards, but the Three Lions’ pressure told in the 14th minute.
Ben Chilwell followed smart build-up play by laying off for Ward-Prowse to sweep home his first international goal.
England extended their advantage seven minutes later. James swinging in a ball from the right that Calvert-Lewin headed home.
San Marino’s goal remained under attack but Benedettini was doing his utmost to keep the score down, superbly tipping over Chilwell’s long-range strike and then denying a dipping Mount effort with his feet.
Sterling sent a looping effort just off target as the England onslaught continued, with the stand-in skipper finally getting on the scoresheet in the 31st minute.
San Marino gave away possession attempting to play out from the back, with Mount taking the ball and Sterling firing home via a deflection off of Dante Rossi.
The second half, which was just eight minutes old when they added a fourth. Chilwell put Lingard behind the San Marino defence and the attacking midfielder put it on a plate for Calvert-Lewin to notch from close range.
Benedettini thwarted Lingard, but he would be beaten one more time as Watkins drove into the bottom corner in the 83rd minute.
England: Pope, James (Trippier 46), Stones (Mings 46), Coady, Chilwell, Ward-Prowse, Phillips, Mount (Bellingham 46), Lingard, Calvert-Lewin (Watkins 63), Sterling (Foden 46). Unused substitutes: Johnstone, Rice, Henderson, Kane, Dier, Shaw, Maguire.
San Marino: Elia Benedettini, Manuel Battistini, Brolli, Rossi, Grandoni (Ceccaroli 55), Jose Hirsch (Mularoni 55), Golinucci (Michael Battistini 71), Lunadei (Giardi 79), Palazzi, Berardi (D’Addario 79), Nicola Nanni. Unused substitutes: Zonzini, Luca Nanni, Simone Benedettini, Conti, Fabbri, Stimac, Zafferani.
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