Roy Hodgson’s side were both efficient and ruthless San Marino. Eight corners inside the first ten minutes signalled the visitors’ early intent, and once the unfortunate Alessandro Delle Valle blasted past his own goalkeeper, it was a case of how many. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain brilliantly smashed home a second before Jermain Defoe, Ashley Young and Frank Lampard all netted to complete the first-half scoring. Wayne Rooney’s expertly taken free-kick made it six before the hour mark and Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge scored his first Three Lions goal before Defoe grabbed completed his brace with 13 minutes remaining. The performance was perfect from front to back, barring Kyle Walker, whose foul-throw and misplaced touches were the only blots on an otherwise perfect night for Hodgson’s side.
There is debate former England players and supporters who should start for England at left-back: Leighton Baines or Ashely Cole? Chelsea veteran Cole is far superior defensively but Baines edges it going forward so why not put the Everton full-back in front of his Chelsea counterpart? Admittedly, the pair were only tasked with dissecting a below-par San Marino on Friday night, but Baines looked good going forward, and Ashley Young, despite his wonder goal, has not set the world alight this season. It would be an interesting prospect to see the pair line-up together on Tuesday. Some would consider it too defensive but it could deliver England a crucial result in their bid to reach the 2014 World Cup against group leaders Montenegro.
Realistically, a Blue Square South XI should comfortably beat San Marino, so Hodgson chose to chop and change his side, with Defoe starting ahead of the manager’s favourite Danny Welbeck, as well as Baines at left-back and Lampard over captain Steven Gerrard. Playing Defoe, Baines and Oxlade-Chamberlain was a logical decision with the trio all having something to prove on the international stage and contributed to an emphatic eight-goal win. Sturridge’s introduction was also a wise decision, as the Liverpool forward was cleary eager to grab his first England goal after missing out on Euro 2012. Hodgson also erred on the side of caution by subbing Rooney once he netted his confidence-boasting goal ahead of a crunch Group H clash. Hodgson’s a wily campaigner and there is no better man to lead the Three Lions to Rio.
Who is a big fan of watching international qualifiers for a major tournament? Not too many football fans. No Premier League or Championship football certainly dampens a weekend. So why not do pre-qualifier qualifiers for the lesser nations. It works very well in both the league and FA Cup, as well as the Champions League. There was no way San Marino were going to prevent an England victory and our national side, among other big nations, endure one or two of these pointless rugby-score games. Some might argue it’s the fairest way but do many of those San Marino players thrive on touching the ball less than once an hour and being humiliated whoever the play? The novelty of being nut-mugged by Rooney would wear off after 28 consecutive nutmegs. Reducing the qualifying groups to four lots of 13, winner goes through would be good enough and do it all in a year. Spend the previous year determining what 26 join the top 26. There has been talk of this before and the sooner it is put to action the better, for everyone’s sake.
ENHANCED ODDS: Get Italy, Netherlands and Belgium to win at 14/1