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Ollie Watkins’ debut goal puts gloss on England stroll against San Marino | Football


Lads, it’s San Marino. Anything that England did here, as they kicked off their campaign to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, was always going to be seen through the prism of what was in front of them – namely the worst team in international football.

San Marino are ranked 210th out of 210 by Fifa and it is probably worth noting that since they began playing official matches in 1990, they have won only once – against Liechtenstein in a 2004 friendly. Their record in World Cup qualifiers when they pitched up at Wembley showed 64 losses and two draws from 66 attempts and an average of 4.7 goals conceded each time.

In a sense, Gareth Southgate and England were on a hiding to nothing in what had the feel of an attack-versus-defence training exercise throughout. The record drubbing of San Marino was the 13-0 inflicted by Germany and England were meant to run up a high score.

That they managed only five owed much to a catalogue of loose finishing; at times, it seemed as if England were engaged in an in-house competition for the most glaring miss. But it was difficult to get too vexed. England gave San Marino nothing – it was hard to remember them escaping their own half – and the standout moment was one to make everyone smile, not least the debutant Ollie Watkins.

On as a substitute, he took a pass from another replacement, Phil Foden, in the 83rd minute before ramming a low shot into the far corner. Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored two, with James Ward-Prowse and Raheem Sterling getting the others.

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It is a curiosity that the next time Southgate names a squad it will be for the delayed Euro 2020 finals, which begin in June. But for now, it is the World Cup in the Gulf that comes under the spotlight and it is not hugely far away – 20 months and counting.

The challenges for England will only get harder – the visit of Poland next Wednesday will pose more serious questions – and it was possible to ask the old question about the merit of these opponents at an early juncture. Southgate had offered up some kindness on Wednesday. As with every club in the FA Cup, he said, it is the right of every country to enter the World Cup.

Southgate’s starting 4-3-3 system was a talking point, even if he could have configured his team in almost any manner he fancied and still won at a canter. The idea was for Ward-Prowse and Mason Mount to provide the guile in central areas and the full-backs and wingers to slice forward and get balls into the box, which is exactly what happened. The gulf in class and conditioning between the teams was no surprise and yet it still bordered on the grotesque.

James Ward-Prowse scores



James Ward-Prowse opens the scoring in England’s rout of San Marino. Photograph: Eddie Keogh – The FA/The FA/Getty Images

Ward-Prowse could enjoy his first England goal in the 14th minute when Mount released Ben Chilwell for a smart cut-back and, by then, Southgate’s team had already passed up three gilt-edged chances. Calvert-Lewin missed his kick from three yards with an open goal gaping – cue a TV close-up on Harry Kane in the stands; the captain was on the bench – Sterling blew an easy header and John Stones, back in the lineup after a lengthy absence, spooned over from six yards.

England could have had double figures by half-time.

The further goals they did score came when Calvert-Lewin muscled in on a Reece James cross and Sterling cut inside to finish with a deflected shot after San Marino had given away possession to Mount.

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The San Marino goalkeeper, Elia Benedettini, will be able to tell his grandchildren about the fine saves he made to keep out Jesse Lingard (twice) and Chilwell before the interval while Calvert-Lewin was wide with a spectacular volley and Lingard, also back after a long time out, fluffed his finish from a Chilwell cross.

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Southgate made four changes at half-time, as he managed the minutes of his players before Sunday’s trip to Albania, and it was interesting to see that he introduced Foden on the right of the front three, rather than in one of the No 8 roles. In either 4-3-3 or, perhaps more relevantly, 3-4-3, the manager seems to see him as a winger.

Calvert-Lewin did not celebrate his second goal – a tap-in from Lingard’s low cross after a Chilwell ball in behind – even if his heart must have leapt and there were similar emotions for Ollie Watkins when Southgate brought him on. Calvert-Lewin was the player to make way; Kane sunk a little further into his seat. He surely would have moved a little closer to Wayne Rooney on the all-time scoring list had he got on.

Lingard had one of those games when the ball would not go in for him while Ward-Prowse saw Benedettini tip his free-kick on to a post and away. The substitute Jude Bellingham also went close with a scissor kick before Watkins enjoyed his dream-come-true moment.



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