England thrashed San Marino 8-0 at the Stadio Olimpico to keep the heat on World Cup qualifying Group H leaders Montenegro.
There were six different scorers for Roy Hodgson’s side, with Jermain Defoe (2), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge all on target after an Alex Della Valle own-goal set the ball rolling.
It was by no means a perfect day for the English, with Theo Walcott earlier ruled out of both this match and the crucial qualifier in Montenegro next Tuesday.
The Montenegrins lead England by two points with five matches played after clinging on to a 1-0 win in Moldova, despite being down to 10 men for much of the second half.
With the Sammarinese boasting just one full professional in their ranks, the question was not if England would win, but by what margin.
Steven Gerrard was rested and – in the absence of Walcott – Young and Oxlade-Chamberlain worked the flanks for Hodgson’s side.
All three netted in a first half that England utterly dominated, with Defoe also on target after the unfortunate Della Valle opened the scoring.
It is hard to make any assessments about England’s performance against a side comparable to Northern League outfit Bridlington Town, both in terms of quality and resources – San Marino’s population of 32,000 is slightly smaller than that of the East Yorkshire town.
But Leighton Baines, in for the rested Ashley Cole, did his credentials no harm with a good attacking display from left-back.
The Everton man bagged two assists, his low cross turned in by Della Valle on 12 minutes, and another cut-back drilled in by Lampard three minutes before half-time. Baines was also involved when Defoe tapped home Oxlade-Chamberlain’s knock-down from a Rooney cross.
Just before Lampard’s effort, Young netted the goal of the game with a rasping 25-yard drive that rattled in off the crossbar – while a better side would have closed him down more effectively, the world’s best goalkeepers would have struggled to stop his finish.
Clearly there could have been more goals but for some desperate interventions by Sammarinese defenders, with sole pro Mirko Palazzi clearly a cut above his team-mates despite playing in Italy’s fourth division with Rimini.
Swiss referee Alain Bieri put the hosts out of their misery by blowing directly on 45 minutes, as Giampaolo Mazza’s side trudged in for commiserations from their long-serving coach.
There was little change as England continued their passing practice from the restart, Defoe erroneously called offside and Rooney failing to open his account as Aldo Simoncini saved well from a long-range shot.
Many say such games are pointless, failing to serve the interests of either nation, whether it be the humbled minnow with no chance of gaining a result, or the dominant giant who risks injury and fatigue in an already congested fixture list.
This was highlighted when Davide Simoncini clattered into Tom Cleverley with a woeful challenge that earned the Sammarinese defender a booking. Fortunately the Manchester United midfielder was unharmed, with Rooney curling home the free-kick for a sixth.
Both Rooney and Cleverley were taken off immediately afterwards, with substitute striker Sturridge missing a sitter as, unmarked from close range, he headed off the post.
England appeared to take their foot off the gas as San Marino had their first effort on goal – Fabio Bollini shooting well over on 62 minutes – and only their third corner in this qualifying campaign, but the visitors soon added a seventh as Sturridge atoned for his miss by heading Young’s fine cross into the goal, his first goal for the senior national team.
Defoe added an eighth with a cute backheel after Kyle Walker drilled in a fine low cross from the right, with the Tottenham striker spurning two opportunities to complete a hat-trick as he put a free header wide before mis-hitting his finish after Young sent him through.
Those missed chances would have sent England into double figures but they were happy to declare at eight as they look to the big match in Podgorica on Tuesday.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Leighton Baines (England): The Everton left-back did his chances of ousting Ashley Cole no harm with a bombarding attacking display.
SAN MARINO: Aldo Simoncini 5, Fabio Vitaioli 3, Palazzi 5, Alessandro Della Valle 3, Davide Simoncini 3, Cervellini 3, Gasperoni 3, Cibelli 3, Fabio Bollini 4, Selva 4, Matteo Vitaioli 3; Subs: Buscarini 4, Rinaldi 4, Carlo Valentini N/A.
ENGLAND: Hart 6, Walker 7, Baines 8, Lescott 6, Smalling 6, Cleverley 6, Lampard 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 7, Young 8, Defoe 8, Rooney 7; Subs: Parker 6, Osman 6, Sturridge 7.