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:
Surely we’ve reached the stage where the lowest ranked nations should play amongst themselves to qualify for the right to play at this level. It’s become absurd. @FIFAWorldCup
— Gary Lineker 💙 (@GaryLineker) March 25, 2021
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.
4 – Dominic Calvert-Lewin has scored four goals in his first four England starts, the most by an England player since Kerry Dixon netted four in his first four in 1985-86; the last player with more goals in their first four starts was Roger Hunt (6, 1962-64). Poacher. pic.twitter.com/e6CyE0RViv
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 25, 2021
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)