England negotiate San Marino mismatch
England goalkeeper Joe Hart did not have many touches at Wembley but every one was cheered resoundingly. The rafters almost shook when he finally laid hands on the ball in stoppage time.
Roy Hodgson's side got the job done against San Marino, a 5-0 margin slightly better than the tiny republic's average defeat from a record of 108 losses in 113 games.
But was it a job England should have had to do?
The result in this World Cup qualifier meant San Marino have now conceded 136 goals since they last scored away from home in the 2-2 draw with Liechenstein in 2003.
The smiling countenance and grateful thanks to all expressed by coach Giampaolo Mazza in his post-match briefing suggested this will be regarded as a moral victory by San Marino's 32,404 inhabitants.
It was, as anyone could have predicted, a mismatch on the grandest scale. The biggest example of why this game flouted its billing as a competitive fixture came after 65 minutes when Wembley roared San Marino's Ezequiel Rinaldi Danilo towards goal in his side's one attacking foray, only to collectively sigh in disappointment when he shot wildly off target.
Oxlade-Chamberlain scores England's fifth in a one-sided encounter at Wembley. Photo: AFP
All good knockabout stuff - but should international football be paraded on such an unequal basis and reduced to a level that sees one set of fans actively encouraging goal attempts from the opposition?
The match ball arrived courtesy of Royal Marines abseiling down Wembley's towering stands to the the tune of "Mission Impossible." There was only one team here in step with that theme.
This was never a serious contest. San Marino are little more than a footballing punchbag, an object used only to improve goal difference. There was only ever going to be one winner and one winner by a margin that is now considered huge in international football.
The extent of San Marino's ambitions every time they take the field is to make defeat as painless as possible. They will lose. It is simply a question of by how many. They live a footballing life of permanent damage limitation.
The only pain suffered by England came in the early moments when San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini inflicted total wipeout on Arsenal's Theo Walcott with a challenge of such ferocity that it left his opponent in hospital overnight and undergoing scans and X-rays on a chest injury.
Even this was put down to the possible naivety of the accountant turned goalkeeper, although Hodgson refused to use this as one of the prime exhibits of the dangers of allowing the team ranked joint 207th in the world - joint bottom of the Fifa rankings alongside Bhutan and the Turks and Caicos Islands - into elite competition.
Hodgson, at least, found meaning in this fixture. His team won comfortably and heard good news from Chisinau where close rivals Ukraine were held by Moldova, putting England's own 5-0 win there last month into very pleasing context.
And he found meaning in the shape of this almost farcically one-sided affair as he said: "It gave new meaning to the words attack versus defence."
It was an encounter so grotesquely lop-sided that it raised again the question of a pre-qualifying stage for the World Cup that would go some way, at least, to balancing out the sides left in the tournament.
So is this a valid argument? Should there be an extra layer to sort out the wheat from the chaff? It is an argument often used in cricket, with those against saying removing the likes of Bangladesh from competing against countries such as England, India and Australia restricts their opportunities for improvement.
Those in San Marino's corner will say the same and no-one could blame them. But are they improving? Will they improve? A lack of resources and years of hard evidence suggests they will not - they certainly do not show many signs that they will in future.
No-one could question their bravery and determination. Indeed, it took England 34 minutes to break through but there was never the slightest doubt in any mind that England would win with embarrassing ease.
The mere notion that San Marino's path to the World Cup qualifiers should have another obstacle placed in front of it is an emotive one, one Hodgson said it was up to Fifa (and in the case of the Euros, Uefa) to decide.
And there will be plenty who will say, with great conviction, that the joy such occasions bring to San Marino's players - including accountants, students and an olive oil salesman - as well as their management renders any cynicism the refuge of the sour-faced. Maybe so, but this was never approaching anything like serious competition.
It is a game England and Hodgson will be glad to have negotiated, although it claimed a painful casualty in Walcott. There is little to gain and not much credit to be claimed - any win is expected and even 5-0 will be seen as a disappointment for some expecting a repeat of the Netherlands' 11-0 win in against San Marino in a Euro 2012 qualifier.
In this game's defence, a wonderful crowd of 84,654 enjoyed seeing England score five goals, two from Wayne Rooney to take him to fifth place in England's all-time standings. They saw two moments of fine opportunism from Danny Welbeck and the first of what is likely to be many international goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Rooney fulfilled his promise of maturity with his persistent probing. He led England in all the right ways, from scoring goals to the constant urging for more knowing goal difference could yet prove decisive in what may yet become a very close group.
England face San Marino again in March. The pattern of the game will be the same. The result is likely to be the same and the arguments will be the same.
The real World Cup action starts again when England face Poland in Warsaw on Tuesday.