England registered a routine 8-0 win away to San Marino in World Cup qualifying on Friday, to keep pace with Group H leaders Montenegro.
The visitors showed exactly why they are ranked 203 places above one of football’s minnows in the FIFA rankings, enjoying complete domination over the home side and boosting their goal difference ahead of Tuesday’s crucial clash with Montenegro.
England took an early lead through Alessandro Della Valle’s own goal, who skewed Leighton Baines’ cross into the far corner of the net, before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain doubled the Three Lions’ advantage.
Jermain Defoe, Ashley Young and Frank Lampard – captaining the side – all added to the scoreline before the half-time whistle, and the rout continued after the restart with Wayne Rooney dispatching a 20-yard free-kick.
Daniel Sturridge also struck late on before Defoe grabbed a second, and proceeded to miss multiple hat-trick chances.
Injuries and withdrawals dictated Roy Hodgson’s selections, with Oxlade-Chamberlain starting in the absence of Arsenal team-mate Theo Walcott. With Rio Ferdinand pulling out of the squad through injury, Chris Smalling and Joleon Lescott lined up in central defence, while Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole were rested.
San Marino manager Giampaolo Mazza surprisingly left Danilo Rinaldi out of his starting XI – Rinaldi is the only player in the nation’s squad to have scored an international goal.
England exerted their superiority over the hosts immediately, with San Marino retreating deep inside their own half. It took them just 8.3 seconds to score the last time England visited the microstate in 1993, but this time it took 12 minutes for a blue shirt to find the back of the net – albeit at the wrong end.
Unfortunately for the home side, centre-back Della Valle was left embarrassed as he sliced the ball past his own keeper Aldo Simoncini to hand England an early lead. Baines’ low cross was heading toward Rooney until the 30-year-old defender diverted the ball into his own net.
With almost half an hour played, the Three Lions struck again. Oxlade-Chamberlain tricked his way infield and played a cute one-two with Rooney before firing a left-footed shot past Simoncini.
The Arsenal winger’s strike opened the floodgates at the Stadio Olimpico, with Defoe finding the back of the net moments later, but the flag was up for offside. Barely a minute had passed when Oxlade-Chamberlain headed Rooney’s deep cross back across goal for Defoe to prod into an empty net from a yard out.
Young added a fantastic fourth goal when he fired the ball past Simoncini via the underside of the crossbar from 25 yards out. Lampard piled more misery on the hosts just before the break, calmly passing the ball into the back of the net after more good work from Baines.
There were no signs of complacency in the second half, with England continuing their patient assault on the San Marino goal, and it was not long before they added to their tally. Rooney got a goal his performance merited, curling a free-kick past Simoncini from the edge of the box.
Hodgson began making changes after the sixth goal, with Manchester United duo Rooney and Tom Cleverley leaving the field. Far from disrupting the flow of the game, substitutes Sturridge and Leon Osman, the latter making his international debut at the age of 31, were eager to make an impression.
The home crowd erupted in the 65th minute as San Marino won a corner – only their third from five qualifying games – but it was easily dealt with by Joe Hart, who had been as much a spectator as the mischievous England fans occupying the hills overlooking the stadium until that point.
The elation of the San Marino supporters soon faded as the visitors struck for a seventh time – the first time England have managed that tally since their last visit to San Marino almost 20 years ago. The lively Young raced toward the by-line and clipped the ball to the back post, where Sturridge was on hand to head home from close range.
Tottenham duo Kyle Walker and Defoe combined for the eighth goal, with the right-back accelerating into the box and pulling the ball back for Defoe to stroke past Simoncini. It was the final goal on a thoroughly satisfying and efficient night for England, though they face a far sterner test in Podgorica on Tuesday.