World Cup qualifying highlights: England 5-0 San Marino – Nice and easy

Ollie Irish

26th, March 2021

Beating the lowest-ranked international side in the world is nothing for a major (ahem) footballing nation to crow about, but it did kick off a debate – during the game – about whether or not there is any value in the likes of San Marino competing at this level.

Gary Lineker, who has an opinion about everything and isn’t afraid to share it, wound up a lot of people by saying that a contest like this this is essentially an absurd and pointless fixture:

At least Lineker has played international football, unlike everyone who replied to him accusing him of being sneering. He does have a point: the World Cup qualifying system could be shaken up so that there is a lower tier of qualifying involving the minnows, and then the actual group stage before the finals. That would make things more competitive.

People who question San Marino’s “international status” are missing the obvious point. San Marino is a nation state. No matter how bad they are at football, and given their resources they are quite good, they have the right to try to qualify for a World Cup. But I do tend to agree with Lineker that qualifying needs a rethink.

Of course, this wasn’t competitive. England played within themselves, won 5-0 and could have won 10-0 but for poor finishing. Under almost no circumstances could San Marino have won this match, probably not even if England played the whole game with nine men. That sounds patronising, but it’s true.

If Gareth Southgate learned little, that’s not really his fault. San Marino are in their group, they have to play them and play them they did. And they will again, away from home. It was nice to see Mason Mount creating so many chances, it was nice to see Ollie Watkins score a debut goal, it was nice to see Jude Bellingham remind us that he is scarily composed for his age. Jesse Lingard was back in the fold. Nice. It was all very nice and easy and Garethy… and folks should untwist their knickers about it.

If anything, Southgate ended the evening with a bigger selection headache than before kick-off. There was a B team vibe to his selection, but a lot of those players looked good – again, San Marino caveat – such as Ben Chilwell, Kalvin Phillips, James Ward-Prowse and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

There are so many options for England in many positions. Harry Kane had to sit on his hands and watch this, knowing that he would probably have added to his international goal tally, but also perhaps wondering how indispensable he is these days. He is England’s best striker, no doubt, but Calvert-Lewin and Watkins are excellent players too, and have their best years ahead of them.

Man of the match: Ben Chilwell (England)

Match highlights:

Posted in England, World Cup

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