England’s preparations for what should be a formality of taking three points against San Marino have been hit by yet another controversy to afflict the Three Lions.
Having been left out of last year’s European Championship, reportedly in deference to John Terry, Rio Ferdinand was initially recalled to the squad to take on San Marino and then group leaders Montenegro four days later. But the 34-year-old subsequently pulled out citing his intricate fitness regime at Manchester United.
The fallout led to questions over both Ferdinand’s commitment to his nation as well as Hodgson’s authority and management. But Hodgson has said that he has no regrets about the decision to call-up the experienced defender.
"No, no. I don't,” he said, according to BBC Sport. “When I chose that squad of players I gave it a lot of thought.
“[It was] who deserved to be in the squad and who could help us win the two games,” he added. “Rio was one of them.
"I was disappointed about it when he couldn't accept the invitation and it was a pity it couldn't come about this time but we move on with this squad of players."
What Ferdinand’s withdrawal also does is leave England short of quality and experience at center back. Terry has, of course, already retired from international duty, while Phil Jagielka, Michael Dawson and Phil Jones are out injured for both matches, while Gary Cahill still harbors hopes of being fit for Tuesday.
With influential midfielder Jack Wilshere also out, his Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott is a late withdrawal with a groin strain.
Those absences should not prove costly in any way against a San Marino side ranked joint last in the FIFA rankings and that England beat 5-0 at Wembley last October. The tiny nation has only won one match—a friendly against Lichtenstein back in 2004—in their history. Andy Selva scored the winner that day and the 36-year-old is the only player in the squad to have played professionally. He currently represents Italian Serie D side Fidene, but, in the circumstances, has a respectable international record of eight goals in 57 appearances.
San Marino (probable)
G: A. Simoncini
D: Vitaioli, Vannucci, Valle, D. Simoncini, Palazzi
M: Cibelli, Coppini, Cervellini, Gasperoni
D: Walker, Smalling, Lescott, Baines
M: Cleverley, Lampard
Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rooney, Young
Prediction: In theory, the match should be little more than a warm up for Tuesday’s crunch top of the group qualifier with Montenegro. San Marino showed no ambition to go forward at Wembley and, despite being at home, it would be a major surprise should they do anything different. The target for coach Giampaolo Mazza will again be to keep the score as respectable as possible.
England, perhaps particularly under Hodgson, are not a team that is overly comfortable taking the game to the opposition, but they should still win comfortably if not spectacularly. They should also avoid conceding a goal as they so memorably failed to do back in 1993.
San Marino 0-5 England
Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier will kick-off from the Stadio Olimpico Serravalle at 4 p.m. ET. A live stream will be available on ESPN3.