How can it be possible to come out of an international football match knowing the exact same amount about your team? That is the question which Roy Hodgson must have asked himself last night. The answer is unfortunate and slightly depressing; when the opponents are San Marino. England won extremely comfortably last night, so comfortably in fact that it would be an impossible task to try and analyse the match. Hodgson will have conducted more competitive training sessions in preparation for the game. Scoring five and having opportunities for at least double that, the question marks will lie with some questionable finishing, and poor choice of final pass, which is where they lay before the match.
Among those who did impress were Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney, both scoring twice and looking lively in build-up play. They were the pairing involved in the first goal, Welbeck running onto a slide-rule pass, touching it past the goalkeeper, and having his legs taken away. Rooney smashed in the penalty, and England were up and running. However, the fact that it had taken 35 minutes did raise some questions about the finishing, and the ability of the creative midfield players to create chances. Michael Carrick had almost broken the bar with a screamer from 30 yards, Welbeck then hitting the post from the follow up, while the capacity Wembley crowd began to show signs of agitation. In all fairness, they should have been ahead after a couple of minutes, when Theo Walcott was pole-axed when running onto a bouncing ball by the goalkeeper in the area. A resultant red card, penalty and goal would have made for a slightly less frustrating half hour.
Welbeck doubled the lead two minutes after Rooney’s penalty, turning in a fizzing low cross with a neat back-flick from 10 yards. It could have been more before the break, Rooney heading a cross from Cleverley wide when the goal was gaping. However, he did extend the lead further after 69 minutes, latching on to a loose ball before curling it calmly and confidently into the bottom corner. The sense of relief and vanished frustration around the stadium was palpable. After that the resistance from the San Marino players lessened, with Rooney in particular finding more space and time to orchestrate play. He played a part in England’s fourth and Welbeck’s second, spreading the ball wide on the right for Kyle Walker to curl a dangerous ball right across the face of goal, the Manchester United forward showing his poachers instincts with a toe-poked finish. The victory was complete when a ball fell kindly to the feet of Arsenal youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the area, who showed good technique to clip the ball into the top corner, past another despairing dive from the helpless San Marino goalkeeper.
There could have been more, with debutant Jonjo Shelvey amongst others going close, but in the end England had to settle for 5. While Hodgson will have been pleased with Welbeck and Rooney adding to their international tallies; Rooney now on 31 goals for the Three Lions, overtaking Alan Shearer amongst others; he will have been less pleased with their conversion rate-scoring 5 from 33 shots is not efficiency to be proud of. Poland on Tuesday will obviously be a much greater test for England, and will tell us far more about the character and technique of these players. However, England how now scored five in two of the last three games, and for the strikers especially, filling your boots against minnows has some merit surely. The final conclusion drawn from the night is therefore not about England, but about their opponents; are they truly competitive opponents in World Cup Qualifiers?
Author: Euan Cunningham