Match report and highlights as England get their World Cup qualifying campaign under way with a comfortable 5-0 win over San Marino at Wembley
Friday 26 March 2021 07:28, UK
Ollie Watkins scored on his international debut and Dominic Calvert-Lewin struck twice as England kicked off their qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with a comfortable 5-0 win over FIFA's lowest-ranked side San Marino at Wembley on Thursday.
England should have won by far more and passed up a hatful of chances before James Ward-Prowse broke the deadlock on 14 minutes but Calvert-Lewin's header (21) and Raheem Sterling's finish (31) gave them a handsome lead at half-time.
Calvert-Lewin tapped in a fourth (53) from Jesse Lingard's cutback and Watkins (83) stepped off the bench to mark his rise from League Two football to the international stage by adding a fifth.
A superb performance from San Marino goalkeeper Elia Benedettini limited England to that rather modest return from their 32 shots at goal - although at the other end the visitors never came close to emulating their famous goal against England from the 1994 World Cup qualifiers.
San Marino managed just two efforts of their own, as Gareth Southgate marked his 50th game in charge of his country with win number 30.
With Albania winning 1-0 in Andorra and Hungary and Poland drawing 3-3 elsewhere in Group I, the victory sent England top of the table ahead of their trip to Albania for their next qualifier on Sunday, before returning to Wembley to face Poland on Wednesday.
England: Pope (N/A), James (8), Coady (6), Stones (6), Chilwell (8), Phillips (6), Ward-Prowse (7), Lingard (7), Mount (8), Sterling (8), Calvert-Lewin (8).
Subs: Foden (7), Mings (5), Bellingham (7), Trippier (5), Watkins (8)
Man of the match: Dominic Calvert-Lewin
San Marino are 210th in the world rankings, have never won a qualifier for a major tournament, and have now lost their last 44 in World Cup qualifying, so rather than the outcome, the question mark for England was which players would press their claims for a place in the squad for this summer's European Championships.
Southampton's Ward-Prowse fell into that category as one of six starters with five caps or fewer and he made his mark on 14 minutes, tucking home Ben Chilwell's cutback to open the scoring.
England had wasted four good chances by that point, with Calvert-Lewin and John Stones both culpable of fluffing sitters, and San Marino goalkeeper Benedettini pulling off a fine stop to keep out Lingard from distance.
But after stand-in skipper Sterling rifled into the side-netting, Calvert-Lewin nodded in a fine Reece James cross on 20 minutes to double the advantage.
Another super Benedettini stop kept out Chilwell's shot for the top corner, Calvert-Lewin flicked a header wide, and Mason Mount fired straight at the 'keeper from the edge of the box as England kept up the intensity, and that attitude was rewarded when the hosts pounced on a poor San Marino pass out from the back and Sterling made a yard in the area and blasted in.
Further chances came and went for Calvert-Lewin and Lingard, and while San Marino could celebrate winning a corner on their first sustained attack on 37 minutes, they were nearly undone when England counter-attacked a free-kick on the stroke of half-time, but Benedettini pulled off another fantastic stop to keep out Lingard's close-range shot.
England had 22 efforts in the first half, and with the hosts completely on top, Southgate made four changes at the break.
Despite the shake-up, England were straight back onto the front foot and, after Conor Coady received treatment for an accidental blow from team-mate Tyrone Mings, Calvert-Lewin was presented with the simplest of finishes from Lingard's cross to make it four.
Watkins came on for the Everton striker just after the hour mark to make his international debut - completing a fairytale rise from playing in League Two with Exeter on this day four years ago - as Lingard and Jude Bellingham fired at goal and Benedettini pushed a trademark Ward-Prowse free-kick onto a post.
While England were not as potent in the second half after their flurry of changes, 17-year-old Bellingham certainly caught the eye, following a neat turn and dribble in midfield with an audacious scissor-kick attempt, before Watkins' special moment.
The 25-year-old received the ball in the box and shifted it to his right before drilling his first international goal low into the corner.
The goal ensured England have beaten San Marino by at least five goals in each of their meetings and underlined the hosts' dominance, with Southgate's side having now won their last 19 home qualifiers for major tournaments. However, they are likely to face a sterner examination next week when Poland come to Wembley, with a tricky trip to Albania in between.
England manager, Gareth Southgate: "It was a game we were expected to win and win comfortably but I was particularly pleased with the mentality for the full 90 minutes. The way we pressed the ball when we lost it was the biggest indication of that. The whole team were hungry to play.
"Sometimes these games have been stodgy for us in the past but this team can play slightly differently, we have some creative players who can open teams up. A lot of those chances were created by the good pressing and winning the ball high up the pitch. But also some of the inter-change of position and the vision of players. If we were to be ultra critical, we probably should have scored more but we also have to say their goalkeeper had an absolutely fantastic game.
"I was very pleased because the behaviours and habits we showed, to be a top team we have to show those every day, in every training session, and every match and today we respected the game and went about it the right way."
San Marino manager, Franco Varrella: "If we consider only the final score, England for sure is better than San Marino more than a five goal difference. I'm a little bit disappointed because I don't think we did well what we are able to do. For example, on the second goal, the goalkeeper would have done better in that situation.
"In the second half we played better in managing the space and avoiding being attracted to the possession of the skilled English players. But we have to consider the head coach of England substituted two central midfielders at half-time and those were very, very skilled and maybe also the possession of England suffered something about that."
Sky Sports' Adam Bate:
England scored as many goals as Nick Pope had touches of the ball in the first half and they really should have scored many more in what was the mother of all mismatches against San Marino. How much Gareth Southgate will have learned from it all is difficult to say.
It was an opportunity for stats to be padded, reputations to be enhanced, easy headlines to be made, and the players knew it. Skipper for the night Raheem Sterling had seven shots of his own in the first half, perhaps aware that he would not be appearing for the second half.
But Jesse Lingard matched that shot total of seven for the opening 45 minutes and while he was not among the scorers nor was he done at the interval. It was his bright run down the left flank that set up Dominic Calvert-Lewin to make it four early in the second half.
Lingard picked up intelligent positions throughout, playing with an energy that has been apparent in his West Ham performances of late. When the game was over, he had fired off 10 shots and created three chances for his team-mates. The chance to impress was seized.
He had appeared to have drifted out of Southgate's plans due to his inactivity at Manchester United. This was his first international appearance since the Nations League finals in Portugal back in the summer of 2019. But he is back in the plans now.
Southgate made the point beforehand that his World Cup team was broken up quite quickly. "When you go to a semi-final you would imagine that squad would stay fairly consistent for the next couple of years. We have had a bigger upheaval than we expected."
But with John Stones also returning to the squad having found form at Manchester City and with seven others from that semi-final starting line-up well placed to feature this summer, there is a sense that for all the young talent, Southgate is getting the gang back together.
Stones was only involved for 45 minutes against San Marino, perhaps an indication that he will see more action alongside his World Cup defensive partners Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker before this batch of qualifiers are through. He adds a new dimension in defence.
Conor Coady is comfortable enough on the ball, while Tyrone Mings boasts that natural left foot, but only Stones really steps out with the class of an international midfielder. His presence would alleviate some of the concerns about the caution of five at the back.
The appetite for something new is always there in international football and with such a plethora of England prospects, despite having blooded so many of them in recent times, it seems inevitable that Southgate will be accused of stifling someone this summer.
But it is telling that he has noted the need for tournament experience too. Stones and Lingard bring that to the squad. With a bit of extra quality sprinkled on that World Cup group, success at the Euros could yet feel like a natural progression from Russia in 2018.
England travel to Albania in World Cup qualification on Sunday at 5pm, before hosting Poland on Wednesday at 7.45pm. San Marino host Hungary on Sunday at 7.45pm, before entertaining Albania on Wednesday at 7.45pm.