England dispensed with San Marino in predictably comfortable style as they claimed an 8-0 victory in their World Cup qualifier at the Stadio Olimpico in Serravalle.
There were six different English goal-scorers after Alessandro Dalla Valle had turned the ball into his own net to get things going early on. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jermain Defoe, Ashley Young and Frank Lampard made it 5-0 by the half, and Wayne Rooney and substitute Daniel Sturridge added two more before Defoe grabbed his second.
The result takes England onto 11 points from there five matches in Group H, but crucially Montenegro’s late winner in Moldova means the Balkan nation remain two points clear at the top of the standings. England meet Montenegro in Podgorica on Tuesday.
This was always likely to be gentle preparation for that match, a point manager Roy Hodgson emphasized when he left out the likes of captain Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole.
Still, there was little surprise with the match being played almost solely in San Marino’s half, as the home side dropped back to the edge of their own box merely looking for damage limitation.
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It had taken England more than 30 minutes to break the deadlock at Wembley back in October and the visitors were clearly eager to avoid a similar scenario with Lampard having two early efforts blocked and Oxlade-Chamberlain volleying onto the crossbar.
It took less than 12 minutes for England to get the breakthrough this time with a goal that summed up the gulf in quality. A good ball out of the back found Leighton Baines advanced down the left and the full-back’s first time cross looked set to be knocked home by Rooney but Della Valle decided to do the job for the England forward as he haplessly turned the ball past his own goalkeeper at the near post.
Just before the half-hour mark, Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had got his only other England goal when the sides last met, added a fine second. The Arsenal midfielder produced a moment of quality as he dribbled in from the left and exchanged passes with Rooney before finishing left-footed past Aldo Simoncini from 14 yards.
Defoe could have quickly made it three, but he was harshly adjudged to be offside as he tapped in from Young’s pass.
But Defoe didn’t have to wait much longer to get on the scoresheet as Oxlade-Chamberlain headed Rooney’s cross down for the Tottenham striker to tap home into an unguarded net form inside the six-yard box.
For all England’s control, the match was far from exhilarating fare. Young enlivened proceedings, though, six minutes before the break with a stunning strike in off the crossbar from all of 30 yards to put England 4-0 up.
And it was five before the break. Baines was a key outlet down the left throughout and from the Everton star’s pullback, Rooney left the ball for Lampard who side-footed with conviction low into the corner of the net.
Rooney was one man who would have been looking to join the goal-scoring party after the break, but early on he saw his curling effort from 25 yards tipped over by Simoncini.
The 27-year-old would soon get his 34th goal for his country. Rooney’s free-kick from just left of center was sweetly struck, but it failed to find the corner of the net and a top level goalkeeper would certainly have made a better attempt at keeping it out.
With 20 minutes remaining, Sturridge made the most of the limited opposition as he got his first goal for his country when he headed home inside the six-yard box at the back post after Young’s accurate cross.
The scoring was rounded off with 13 minutes remaining when Defoe turned the ball home with the ease and coolness resembling a training match after Kyle Walker’s pull-back from the byline.
Defoe should have grabbed his hat-trick late on, but England earn full marks for the manner in which they put their weak opponents to the sword. The real test, though, comes against Montenegro in four days’ time.