Football Features

England 5-0 San Marino: Chelsea trio’s creative masterclass ensures perfect start | World Cup qualifiers

By Chris Smith

England 5-0 San Marino stats

Published: 22:27, 25 March 2021

England got their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign off to the perfect start with a 5-0 win over San Marino at Wembley on Thursday night.

Granted, playing against the world’s lowest-ranked team (according to FIFA) was never likely to provide a real challenge of the Three Lions’ credentials, but Gareth Southgate’s men approached the task with enthusiasm and professionalism. Goals from James Ward-Prowse, Dominic Calvert-Lewin (x2), Raheem Sterling and Ollie Watkins got the job done.

So, what did we learn from the match?

1. Chelsea boys put on a show

With San Marino sitting deep and narrow in a desperate attempt at damage limitation, England were allowed acres of space in which to operate. Nobody benefited more from that freedom than the starting Chelsea trio of Mason Mount, Ben Chilwell and Reece James, who put on a creative masterclass.

In the first half alone, the three Blues (wearing England blue this time) created a combined 15 chances, eight (8!) for Mount, four for Chilwell and three for James. All three of England’s goals in the opening 45 minutes were assisted by those three players, too.

With no need to worry about defensive responsibilities, James and Chilwell were able to tear down the flanks, providing width and putting in a number of dangerous crosses into the San Marino box. With the increased time and space he was afforded, Mount was able to show off his full repertoire of passing, slipping balls between opposition full-back and centre-back, over the top of the backline or around the sides in equal measure.

While Mount and James were withdrawn at half-time, Chilwell remained on the pitch for the whole game and didn’t let up, ending the match with five chances created and more touches of the ball (146) than any other player on the pitch. It was his defence-splitting pass that allowed Lingard to set up Calvert-Lewin’s second of the night.

Humble opposition, but a superb night for England’s Chelsea contingent nonetheless.

2. San Marino’s competitive unbeaten run comes to an end

Across combined World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, San Marino’s record ahead of Thursday’s match looked like this:

  • Games played: 142
  • Games won: 0
  • Games drawn: 3
  • Games lost: 139
  • Goals scored: 19
  • Goals conceded: 650

La Serenissima have picked up just a single point in either competition since the qualification cycle for the 2002 World Cup.

But in their most recent Uefa Nations League campaign, something curious happened; San Marino saw out their Group D2 campaign with consecutive 0-0 draws against Liechtenstein and Gibraltar, doing so in the latter with 10 men from the 49th minute onwards. That meant they hadn’t suffered a competitive loss since September 2020.

That, of course, came to an abrupt and wholly expected end here. So, it’s back to the drawing board against Hungary next, where San Marino will look to get back to, well, not winning ways, but that unfamiliar feeling of avoiding defeats.

3. Calvert-Lewin extends his international honeymoon period

Even if the goals at club level have dried up a little recently, 19 in 31 games already represents Calvert-Lewin’s best-ever return in a single season, and we’re nowhere near done yet.

The Everton striker has been fully deserving of his place in Southgate’s squad across recent camps and before Thursday, he’d already managed goals in friendlies against Wales (his debut) and the Republic of Ireland.

The 24-year-old would have been licking his lips at the prospect of facing this leaky San Marino defence and during the 63 minutes he remained on the pitch, Calvert-Lewin managed another two goals — making him the first Everton player to score a brace for England since Wayne Rooney vs Croatia at Euro 2004 — while the chances he missed could have taken him beyond a hat-trick.

Nevertheless, in six caps and four starts, Calvert-Lewin has four goals and is thoroughly enjoying his honeymoon period at senior international level.

4. Benedettini puts in heroic performance to stem the flow

One of the least enviable jobs in international football has to be starting goalkeeper for San Marino. Just check the ‘goals conceded’ column from their qualification record above for evidence of that.

But on Thursday, despite conceding five goals, Elia Benedettini was absolutely sensational between the sticks for Franco Varrella’s men, making no fewer than 10 saves to keep the score down and ensuring a number of England forwards remained frustrated, not least Jesse Lingard, who hit five shots on target without scoring upon his international return.

Benedettini made diving saves from long-range Chilwell and Ward-Prowse efforts, denied Lingard from all manner of angles throughout the match and came rushing off his line to gobble up one-on-ones on a number of occasions.

This was the seventh meeting between England and San Marino and with just five goals conceded, Benedettini now joins Aldo Simoncini as the most successful San Marinese goalkeeper in a single match against the Three Lions.

5. More names added to the Southgate revolution

Given his former post as U-21 manager, it’s hardly surprising that one of the biggest features of Southgate’s reign as senior England manager so far has been the blooding of young players. On Thursday, another tyro was added to his list of debutants: Ollie Watkins.

Though 25, Watkins has spent his entire career to date working his way up the footballing pyramid. But this season, he’s taken to life in the Premier League like a duck to water, scoring 12 goals in 31 games across all competitions for Aston Villa and linking up brilliantly with the likes of Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley. On Thursday, he kick-started life as a senior England international with a goal, sweeping home a Phil Foden pass with a tidy left-footed finish in the 83rd minute.

Jude Bellingham also made his second appearance in an England shirt following his debut against the Republic of Ireland in November, and his competitive debut. The teenager was at the centre of a shock transfer in the summer of 2020, trading Championship Birmingham for Champions League Borussia Dortmund. Even more surprising is the fact he’s already surpassed the 30-game mark for his new club, impressing with his passing, grace and maturity along the way. At just 17 years old, Bellingham is already establishing himself in Southgate’s squad and although he didn’t get a goal on Thursday, he tried his level best with an overhead kick and a diving header. Both acrobatic, if a little overambitious.

A previously thin depth chart is now turning into an ever-deepening talent pool for England now, and Southgate must be given huge credit for that, thanks to his willingness to try, test and, most importantly, trust young and uncapped players.