England will be expected to rack up the goals as they take on the side ranked the joint lowest in the FIFA rankings, San Marino. Incredibly, Wembley will be a 90,000 sell-out for what should be a stroll to the three points in Group H for the home side.
The two sides last met in 1993 in what is, despite a 7-1 victory, widely regarded as one of the low points in English football history. Needing a victory by seven goals and the Netherlands to lose in Poland to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, England conceded a goal after only eight seconds from Davide Gualtieri. While the result ultimately proved irrelevant, to many Stuart Pearce’s back pass to set-up the goal summed up the hapless reign of then manager Graham Taylor.
It would be hard to say that things are at such low ebb now, although the whole England set-up could certainly do with a boost. Under Roy Hodgson, England followed up a 5-0 victory in Moldova with an under par performance to draw 1-1 at home to Ukraine.
That result means slip-ups must now be few and far between as they seek to make it to Brazil as group winners.
The match will be notable for the fact that it is the first time England will take the field following the international retirement of John Terry. With Rio Ferdinand continuing to be overlooked by Hodgson, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka are expected to line up in the center of defense.
The fall-out to the Terry racism saga has also encompassed Ashley Cole as the defender directed a foul-mouth Tweet in the Football Association’s direction for an independent panel’s verdict on the evidence he gave in support of his Chelsea teammate.
Cole is in the squad, though, although he may well be given the night off with the qualifier in Poland next Tuesday in mind.
Leighton Baines could well come in, with Cole’s understudy at Chelsea, Ryan Bertrand ruled out through illness. Midfielders Steven Gerrard (suspension) and Frank Lampard (injury) will also miss the match, meaning that Wayne Rooney will captain the side.
In truth, it is unlikely to matter what lineup Hodgson fields, against opposition that have just one victory to their name in international competition. The man who scored on that famous night back in 2004 against Liechtenstein, Andy Selva, is his country’s captain and record scorer—with eight goals. Selva, 36, is likely to be forced to start on the bench after picking up a calf injury.
San Marino’s only professional player is Mirko Palazzi, who plays for Rimini in the third tier of Italian football.
D: Walker, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines
M: Walcott, Cleverley, Carrick, Oxlade-Chamberlain
F: Rooney, Welbeck
San Marino (probable)
G: A. Simoncini
D: Vitaioli, Valle, D. Simoncini, Brolli
M: Cervellini, Matteo
Gasperoni, Marani, M. Vitaoli
Prediction: While Hodgson will be eager to avoid any injuries ahead of the match with Poland, he will know that a victory by anything less than five goals will likely be criticized by the ever-demanding English media.
England showed the way to put weaker nations to the sword with their victory in Moldova last month and they should do likewise against and even weaker San Marino side.
England 6-0 San Marino
Coverage: The 2014 World Cup qualifier kicks-off from Wembley at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel with a delayed online stream available on FoxSoccer2Go. Viewers in the U.K can watch a live stream at ITV1.com.
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