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England negotiate San Marino mismatch

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Phil McNulty | 06:24 UK time, Saturday, 13 October 2012

At Wembley

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.


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  • Comment number 1.

    So Phil.

    With regard to your previous blog before the match against the mighty San Marino:

    Did Rooney "achieve greatness" in your opinion? Yes or No?

  • Comment number 2.

    OH one other thing.

    How many gushing tributes to Wayne Rooney do you need to write? That's two on the trot now. "Rooney fulfilled his promise of maturity"?? REALLY?
    This really is more embarrassing comedy gold I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 3.

    Would it not be an idea for FIFA and UEFA introduce a pre qualifying tournament for lesser teams like San Marino ?

    It would offer them more competative matches, and Europe's stronger countries a smaller but more demanding qualifying group.

    Less games in qualifying would also appease the player's parent clubs who all complain of the demands of the national teams.

  • Comment number 4.

    Michael Owen the English equivalent of Paul the Octupus expected us to beat the minnows of Europe by an octuplet. But will be satisfied with the score 5-0.

    Not when we are supposed to shoot those fish in a barrel.
    To a number of of us given that Germany humbled ROI by that same margin.

  • Comment number 5.

    No win situation for England. Aside from a 15-0 win. It is always going to prove tough against 11 defenders. It does make a mockery of "competitive" football though.

    You have to say that apart from being outclassed against Italy and being a bit flat against Ukraine, Performances have been good in general under Roy.

  • Comment number 6.

    Is the Tournament for those affiliated to the European body or not or is it for an elite establishment.Like the Rugby World Cup, sides can only improve if they are exposed to this level of competition. After the war England beat the like of Holland 14-0, but that never happens now because the Dutch have the experience of football at this level.

  • Comment number 7.

    Any criticism of England is meaningless - rather like the fixture itself. San Marino's tactics were to not even attempt to score a goal but to have 10 men defending 30 metres from their goal-line. No team can function normally against such tactics. San Marino charming minnows? Not to me. I think their philosophy is cynical and brings football into disrepute.

  • Comment number 8.

    At 07:51 13th Oct 2012, TheOneVoiceOfReason wrote
    Its all very well saying now that there should be a preliminary round for weaker teams, but if it were to happen then what would become of England? So far we could not beat Ukraine at Wembley, and I think we would struggle to qualify for the World Cup.

    Also, this situation would be unfair for the smaller teams. Not only would they lose revenue by not playing the stronger teams if they failed to qualify, but they also would never improve. Yes, teams like San Marino and Andorra aren't exactly going to improve but what about Wales, Armenia, Kazakshan and Finland? They all have the potential to improve their teams to a certain standard, especially Wales.

    And finally if your system was to be put in place the smaller nations would never get a chance to go and play big teams. After all, you don't see the likes of Germany and Spain going to visit San Marino for a friendly, do you?

  • Comment number 9.

    Concacaf has pre-qualifying so that the likes of Mexico aren't mismatched with a tiny island, so there has to be a case for UEFA too. But where do you draw the line?. San Marino are 53rd of 53 Europeans in the current FIFA rankings. Northern Ireland are only nine places higher. I am sure there would be much outrage on here if they had to pre-qualify.

  • Comment number 10.

    No Disrespect to San Marino but they should not really be playing football at this level, it had to be the most one sided game i have ever seen, there was nothing even slightly entertaining about it.

    Its obvious that what ever tactic they use they will loose, and it would do them no harm to come out and try to play football, at least have 20-30 minutes of attempted attacking football the result for them should not be a issue as i can never really see them winning, so why not give it go, the coach should be sacked and someone should come in for him and install some pride in their football.

    Glad we managed to get 3 points, our players showed good skill and ball control but the finishing could be better but i liked the way we tried to pass it into the net, we showed good omovemnt especially in the second hald in forward position, Rooney, Cleverly and Wellbeck showed very god first touches.

    On another day it could have been 10-0 with alot of close misses, England can only play and beat whats in front of them and they just did their job.

    Poland will be alot different and if we win on Tuesday which will not be an easy game i think we should have done enough to qualify, i think its unfair to really rate or drag down any player in such a game like this.

  • Comment number 11.

    6. sides can only improve if they are exposed to this level of competition.

    How on earth will they improve if they never venture outside the back third of the pitch? A qualifying competition would give them a chance to attack and have a decent chance of a win - they have no chance at present.

  • Comment number 12.

    At 08:41 13th Oct 2012, melrose wrote:
    but northern ireland arent excatly the best team in the world
    it would be good to get riff raff teams out of the competition
    just a waste of time and money

  • Comment number 13.

    Only watched the highlights show, dull, meaningless, watch us struggle against Poland.

  • Comment number 14.

    "but northern ireland arent excatly the best team in the world"

    (and blimey 2005)

  • Comment number 15.

    Didn't bother watching this one. Am happy that Rooney got to lead this country, but this fixture will always be a waste of time. I guess the English fans who bought tickets just wanted a night out.

    There's no point in San Marino turning up, there's no point them having a football team at all. So what if it allows amateurs a 'taste' of the big time.. i'm an amateur and i don't expect to play at Wembley, why should these guys?

  • Comment number 16.

    @8 - "they also would never improve."

    Yes and no. They'll only improve by playing regularly against teams similar, or a bit better than them. Getting thumped 11-0 by the Netherlands, not scoring a goal in ten years isn't going to help.

  • Comment number 17.

    This fixture is meaningless when it is put into the context of the Group standings. San Marino will lose all of their games, as Moldova will lose the majority of their games. The outcome will not be determined by either team but the ironic part is that the goals scored by sides they play, could very well be decisive.

    UEFA has to come up with a Qualifying Group for the weaker teams, much in the same way that the AFC and CONCACAF do. They could easily take the twelve weakest teams and split them into 4 groups of three teams. The winner of each Group then goes through to the main Qualifying phase. Games would be played in July and August.

    England navigated a tricky fixture where the points were never in doubt but where the confidence needed to be built upon ready for Poland. At times, the passing style that Hodgson is trying toi improve on became a stumbling block as with teams of San Marino's inadequacies, the direct route to goal is the more productive.

  • Comment number 18.

    I happen to think Roy and the rest of us learnt a lot from last night.
    It showed that faced with a packed defence we are unable to play the ball through on the ground.
    All we needed was a continual bombardment from the wings to Andy carroll right from the start.
    OK a bit boring and predictable but I think we would have got more goals.It would have been no worse than continually coming up against a brick wall.Even when Andy came on instead of playing out to the wings, the ball was played inside.
    When you see the Gemans they are far more ruthless, with the possession we had we should have got near the 13-0 trouncing Germany gave them a few years ago. Yes I really think that would have been good.
    No I am sorry last night was simply not good enough !!!

  • Comment number 19.

    This is clearly not a worthwhile fixture. If San Marino are going to improve, they will need to find better opposition.

  • Comment number 20.

    Three things need to be said about last night. First. Tiny countries ike San Marino, whose entire population could fit into Wembley stadium 3 times, should have to pre qulaify for the World Cup. A competition for these countries would only allow the best through & would, in the main, stop charades like last night.

    Second. Only England can score 5 goals in a match & still look dodgy. Most of the team looked edgy as though terrified of losing. Too many memories of past failures I think. Get in there & score goals!

    Third. The future for England is looking brighter with some of the new & newer players really shaping up. I hope Hodgson continues picking the likes of Walcott, Wellbeck, Lennon, Oxlade-Chamberlain etc as they are the future. In 2 years time Gerard & Lampard will be past it (Gerard already is) so why not phase them out now so that the new players are comfortable with each other international football BEFORE the next World Cup gets here.

  • Comment number 21.

    Interestingly San Marino are currently Joint bottom of the rankings, so they're at least as poor as American Samoa.

  • Comment number 22.

    Its been something like 10 years now and these smaller teams have failed to kick on, nobody is saying that they should be barred from competition but there has to be some pre-qualifying. People can point to specific performances (like Moldova last night) but the same teams qualify with twice as many games.

    Two less teams in the qualifying groups would free up four 'game days' over two years, allowing the Champions League Second Round to move forward to before xmas. The lop sided scheduling of the Champions League is whats causing exhaustion in the back end of the season going into major tournements (which had been a feature over the last few years with lethargic performances and injuries) tired. Obviously a run in the Europa League (potentially 19 games - half a season), League Cup (6 games) have an effect as well.

    If Northern Ireland have to pre-qualify then so be it. Even former giants like Liverpool have to pre qualify for the Europa League, yet they did so. even the Eurovision Song Contest have semi finals.

    Here we have it. 9 Groups of three seeds = 27 and the rest are drawn into groups of three with the winner joining the three seeds making a group of 4.

    Its why we are suddenly getting a raft of players playing 100 caps. Very soon we will have a player passing Peter Shiltons record (125 caps), yet he did it over 20 years against groups with 4/5 teams, without playoffs. Now we have groups of 6/7 with the goalkeeper may of well not been on the pitch.

    Rooney is the 4th or 5th highest England scorer now at 26 years old. In part due to playing vast numbers of games against non existant opposition.

  • Comment number 23.

    I'm sorry, but for the first 30 minutes the match wasn't THAT much different to both last year's semi and final of the champions league!

    Everyone should be given a fair chance and I found the tv commentary of the game totally shameful and condescending towards San Marino.

  • Comment number 24.

    "Two less teams in the qualifying groups would free up four 'game days' over two years, "

    Yay More friendlies!!!!!!


  • Comment number 25.

    Bring back British Home Championships, that should not only sort out Wayne Rooneys enthusiasm on the pitch for Engand but also give the squad more competitive games than premiership level.

  • Comment number 26.

    I don't know why San Marino play at all. It isn't a country, and has less autonomy than Sicily or Catalonia in Spain. I'd like to know what the arguments are for allowing it? Do they mean that Bavaria could establish its own team, or Brittany?

    As for the playing side of it, a team with one full professional - the keeper - can't hope to gain anything from a full qualifying group. But neither can it improve: 32,000 inhabitants is just not enough. San Marino will always be this bad.

  • Comment number 27.

    @26. At 09:53 13th Oct 2012, bengate wrote:
    I don't know why San Marino play at all. It isn't a country.

    Nor is Wales. It's a principality.
    Should we exclude Wales from international competition too?

  • Comment number 28.

    We were crying out for midfield creativity imo..... Someone who could run the match, see the special pass, pick out an overlapping full back or a darting winger.....

    Step forward the best midfielder of his generation Paul Scholes. The game was crying out for him last night.

  • Comment number 29.

    This is the reality of Michele Platini's dream.

    Yes, the small countries get to compete, but it's farcical.

    Speaking of farcical, how can one not mention 'Clueless Cleverley' and 'Carry me Carrick'.

  • Comment number 30.

    I struggled through the highlights but started watching Ireland v Germany before I went out and I'm English. I did notice on the highlights what a supremely confident player Wellbeck is, verging on a big head. Sturridge is another and Walcott and Adam Johnson. What is it with young players these days. Their over confidence is annoying.

  • Comment number 31.

    The problem with pre-qualifying is that there aren't too many 'poorer' European teams before you get to Moldova (145), who drew with Ukraine (42), who drew with England (5).
    So you might as well include everyone, it does give the weaker teams opportunities to play 'top sides' and hopefully improve over time.
    It would be a little mean to single San Marino out as a reason to change. And, 84,000 is an impressive crowd for such a fixture! I suspect 30 yrs ago 25,000 would have been seen as good!
    Keep it as it is, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

  • Comment number 32.

    San Marino should not be playing at this level: the argument that such experiences give minnows the chance to improve is nonsensical when applied to a 'country' with fewer people than the market town in which I live. A nice evening out for the visitors with the chance of an autograph or two, but come on - that was not worthy of international billing!

  • Comment number 33.

    From last night

    Good players: Hart, Baines, Cahill, Jagielka, Cleverley (can't shoot, but he passes quickly and has good firsr touch)
    Average players: Walker, Lennon, Rooney, Shelvey, Carroll
    Need to improve: Carrick (can't impose himself), Welbeck (first touch is rubbish), Ox (ditto Welbeck), Walcott (ditto Ox and Welbeck)

  • Comment number 34.

    @ 28 Yams

    Anyone would be better than Carrick. You'd think if Hodgson went to the trouble of naming him in the England side, he would actually turn up for the match.

  • Comment number 35.

    Although I agree in the greater scheme of things Walcott need to improve (but he does run fast!) it seems a little unfair to judge him on a 10 minute run out.

  • Comment number 36.

    If England had won 3-0 in Serbia then we would be very impressed.

  • Comment number 37.

    there is no way there was 84,000 in that part empty stadium last night, all the corporate seats were empty and you could see empty seats all over the horrible monstrosity, hard to believe the reports when clear and obvious propaganda is taken as fact. BBC news, joke for years

  • Comment number 38.

    England, population 53million, San Marino population 32,000.

  • Comment number 39.

    I loved the irony – a team full of Liverpool players trying to play like Arsenal. Can we go back to playing like Stoke please?

    Also can SMR go away and stop annoying everyone? If they have to play, perhaps we can find a place for them in the Conference.

  • Comment number 40.

    The game was pointless and the lack of pre-qualifying is something that really needs to be addressed. However, we shouldn't get too hung up on this rankings thing. After all, England are ranked 5th in the world and we all know how ludicrous that is!

  • Comment number 41.

    The "minnows need to play these games in order to gain experience" argument is flawed. The San Marino football side isn't a living, breathing entity, thus it cannot gain experience: only its players can. So in 20-30 years, San Marino will still likely have a squad with an average of 24 caps per player. And the same in 40-50 years. Just because "San Marino" has 25 years experience of international football, it doesn't mean each player does. They have a 32-year-old defender with 4 caps in their current squad!

    Similarly, England have been playing matches since 1872, but that doesn't mean each player has (or benefits from) 140 years of experience. How is England's 140 year history beneficial or relevant to, say, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain if he's 17 and has 3 caps? So it isn't as if "San Marino" are improving and gaining experience from their inclusion in qualifying competitions at all and it's nonsense to say England are better than San Marino because they've been playing since 1872 as opposed to 1986. They're rubbish because they're a tiny country with a tiny population.

    And in fact clearly San Marino aren't improving. In 1993 we beat them 6-0 and 7-1. It is highly likely that, 19 years later, we will match that aggregate score. And if anything, San Marino are getting worse, having suffered 11-0 and 13-0 losses since 2006, whilst all of their "results" (draws or wins) were prior to 2004.

    A good comparison may by Rugby Union where they seperate national sides into "tiers". It's pointless enough when the All Blacks play sides like Scotland and Ireland (against whom they have a 100+ year 100% winning record), but for them to play the likes of Lithuania or Spain would be even more pointless, and the IRB recognises that, hence the big teams only play other big teams. NZ, Aus, Sth Africa, Eng, Fra, Ita, Sco, Arg, Wal and Ire play each other ad nauseum, and it gets boring, but football wouldn't have the same problem because there are more "big teams" or teams capable of upsets. The top "tier" of football would likely have 40-50 countries rather than 10.

    But to be playing sides ranked in triple digits is pointless. If we (FIFA) want to "develop" sides like San Marino, they should be entered into the Serie A. Playing together on a weekly basis would provide experience. But playing 20 qualifying games every four years does nobody any good.

    But personally, I'd be happy with a second tier competition.

    That said, just to turn my argument and opinion on its head... If New Zealand can draw with reigning world champions Italy at the 2010 World Cup (for example), then that's the beauty of football. Any side can beat any other on their day. So perhaps there is some merit in allowing sides ranked 50-100 play the "big" sides. But anything under 100? Waste of time. San Marino haven't even come close to a major upset.

  • Comment number 42.

    @39. At 10:15 13th Oct 2012, Barney McGrew did it wrote:
    I loved the irony – a team full of Liverpool players trying to play like Arsenal.

    01 Hart Man City
    02 Walker Tottenham
    03 Baines Everton
    05 Cahill Chelsea
    06 Jagielka Everton
    04 Carrick Incognito
    07 Walcott Arsenal
    08 Cleverley Man Utd
    11 Oxlade-Chamberlain Arsenal
    09 Welbeck Man Utd
    10 Rooney Man Utd

    A team full of Liverpool players? :-D

  • Comment number 43.

    Morning everyone. Thanks for the replies so far.

    Keen to hear your thoughts on England's performance and the wider context of last night's match.

    No-one is suggesting San Marino should never play international football but there is a real debate to be had about whether they need to do more to earn their place in the World Cup qualifiers - such as go through pre-qualifying.

    I have heard some saying the Republic lost 6-1 to Germany so that was also one-side - but are they thrashed like that on a regular basis? No. Have they conceded 136 goals since they last scored away from home? No. Are their ambitions limited to simply keeping the score on the right side of relatively respectable? No.

    I admired the way San Marino at least stuck to their task but it was, and almost always has been, embarrasingly one-sided when they play?

    Is there a better solution or is it arrogance to suggest they should earn the right to play such games as last night's?

    Let me know and debate it here.

  • Comment number 44.

    Phil's concern about the mismatch is well-founded. When minnows such as San Marino play in 'competitive' games it is a joke as it is just a matter of (eventually) when the bigger team will score. Perhaps FIFA should introduce a qualifying test for their tournaments. For example does a country have a professional domestic league. If there is grass roots interest in football that sustains professional (or semi-professional) teams in the country then it should be able to enter international tournaments. Alternatively, if FIFA wishes to remain inclusive have a pre-qualifier whereby Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg et al compete with each other to decide which of them gets to compete with the bigger nations. This would still leave one minnow but they would be the best of the worst which is some improvement on the current situation.

  • Comment number 45.

    @30: The problem is though that whilst Moldova and Macedonia et al may sneak the odd draw here and there, they won't ever qualify for anything, hence their inclusion is more to prevent big teams from qualifying rather than to achieve qualification themselves, if that makes sense. It's like the Aussie cyclists in the Olympic road race: it was alleged that they weren't trying to win, they were just trying to make sure Great Britain didn't win. So the inclusion of these sides isn't a benefit to them, so much as a detriment to everyone else. It's negative. Having these sides "park the bus" and try to sneak a draw is no good for anyone.

  • Comment number 46.

    For all who are saying the likes of San Marino should be kicked out and pre qualifying should come in to help the major nations relieve pressure on international then please answer?
    1) When does the pre qualifying take place?
    2) What do the 'big' nations do during pre qualifying, play friendlies and therefore not play any form of competitive football?
    3) How long does pre qualifying last?

    Also if any has any sort of knowledge about world football it would be good to take note from South America. Yes they only have 10 nations but they play a marathon group, every plays everyone and they are striving on the success of this. Venezuela and Peru and Bolivia have all improved from regularly playing Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. They have a very close and intense qualifying which is only good for international football. And please, spare a thought for the people from these 'smaller' countries before disrespecting their nations.

  • Comment number 47.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 48.

    I don't mind having teams like San Marino, it gives you a chance to rest your "big guns" before a very crucial game. Ie England play Poland on Tuesday, so we were able to rest our A team and give the lesser players some game time (Cleverley, Carrick, Welbeck, Walker, Baines) Although to be I reckon we have probably found Welbeck and Cleverley's level with San Marino!

  • Comment number 49.

    Carrick was out of his depth.

  • Comment number 50.

    @ 40: I don't have a problem with England being ranked 5th in the world.

    Take a look at FIFA's top 20 and tell me which sides you would bet $1000 on to beat England within 90 minutes.
    Spain? Sure.
    Brazil? Probably.
    Germany? Maybe. But we actually have a 50-50 record vs Germany since 2000 (P6 W3 L3 F10 A9)
    France? Couldn't beat us in Euro 2012 and lost to Sweden.
    Holland? Couldn't get out of their group.
    Greece? Switzerland? Croatia? Behave.

    England are easily a top 10 side based on their results. What is their record under Hodgson by the way...?

    Beat Norway 1-0, beat Belgium 1-0, drew with France 1-1, beat Sweden 3-2, beat Ukraine 1-0, drew with Italy 0-0 (after 120 minutes), beat Italy 2-1, beat San Marino 5-0, beat Moldova 5-0, drew with the Ukraine 1-1?

    So that's P10 W7 D3 L0 F19 A5

    Wow, that's embarassing. We should be ranked around 42, right?

  • Comment number 51.

    A dreadful game with only one positive, we got the 3 points to make up for our other shocking performances.

    It highlighted England's complete inability to control the ball or the pace of the game, all we did was "over powered through ball to quick guy" which DOESN'T WORK.

    Roy out because he hasn't the guts to try and pick players who can pass the ball in midfield or run with the ball without just kicking it and hoping. AOC needs to leave Arsenal as quickly as possible as he never lost the ball like that for us in L1 when against San Marino he was dribbling about like a worse Wallcott.

    Dreadful waste of time as we just have no ability to actually play football, instead we play like the usual prem rubbish of Stoke or Fulham, predictable, one dimensional kick it after a couple of passes as Rooney or Wellbeck need a touch.

  • Comment number 52.

    Well there should definitely be a 'Minnow State' World Cup and maybe even a Uefa 'Minnow State' Cup as well. This would mean that their games would actually become competitive in the true meaning of the word, and not just in the technical sense.

    Uefa could alternatively just have a 'Minnow State' qualifying group stage of 6 countries (count them) and the winner of the group stage would qualify for the Uefa Euro Cup.

    There wouldn't be much money in a 'Minnow State' tier of international football for UEFA/FIFA but it would be much more exciting for the neutral (let alone the Minnow States themselves) and it would be a gesture of good sportsmanship on behalf of international football.

  • Comment number 53.

    "From last night


    Need to improve: ..., Welbeck (first touch is rubbish), ..., Walcott (ditto Ox and Welbeck)"

    How can you judge Walcott from last night bearing in mind he was only on the pitch around 6 or 7 minutes of which for three he was lying on the ground having been flattened by the San Marino goalie. He might have proved you right but a fairer assessment would have been to say "unable to judge".

    As for San Marino and comments such as "Having these sides "park the bus" and try to sneak a draw is no good for anyone." surely the better the opposition the higher the score.

    San Marino may be cannon fodder but lets be fair to them even Taylor's team managed a 6 goal difference. If England are improving, as people say San Marino should, then our ability to only score 5, and the first taking 35 minutes, is not so good. Where were the shed load of goals that we were told to expect. We had several good chances that should have been converted (in football terms not rugby as seemed to happen).

    San Marino may not be good but I think they will see going home with England scoring less than 7 against them as a far greater achievement than our 5 goals will be viewed amongst the other teams in the group.

  • Comment number 54.

    Of course it's a worthwhile fixture! Just who do we think we are? Oh ok then, let's ban the Scots, they went to the Czech Republic with a 5-5-0 formation.
    Have a pre-qual round if you want, but to write off a nation's football team is the height of disrespect.

  • Comment number 55.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 56.

    There was about as much point to last night's game as there is posting a comment on these boards......................

  • Comment number 57.

    At 09:53 13th Oct 2012, bengate wrote:

    I don't know why San Marino play at all. It isn't a country, and has less autonomy than Sicily or Catalonia in Spain. I'd like to know what the arguments are for allowing it? Do they mean that Bavaria could establish its own team, or Brittany?
    Why don't you pop over there and tell them that then. I'm sure they'll be pleased. San Marino was made an independent state back in the year 301, and an independent country in 1600. Is that not a country? Yes they're awful but that doesn't mean that they're not a country.

    You could argue that Northern Ireland aren't a country, because they're part of Great Britain. Should we bar them, then?

  • Comment number 58.

    50. At 10:47 13th Oct 2012, Dizzee69 wrote:

    Good point well made...will fall on deaf ears though! unless we play and win like Spain we'll always be rubbish and no hopers to some "fans" are we good enough to win a major tourny? no we're not but who cares..still English and will still will them on good, bad or ugly!

  • Comment number 59.

    San Marino made the likes of Rooney, Wellbeck, Carrick, and Cleverley look good and that tells us all something. I think that joe Hart only touched the ball four times during the whole game so there is something fundementality wrong here.
    In essence San Marino were pathetic!

  • Comment number 60.

    I find it quite funny when you call San Marino for putting everyone behind the ball, yet when we did it against Italy it is sensible play. Roy tactics are pretty good untill we play a better than us. This shown at WBA against the better teams they struggled as you can not play like this against teams good on the ball. Rooney did well last night but I am sure he would agree he needs to shine against the top teams not the san marinos.

  • Comment number 61.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 62.

    You can't read anything into a game like that and Phil is right about pre-qualification being necessary. Success in footbal is determined by population, the development of the country, the sporting culture and the competition between sports for athletes. It's not a hard formula to work out and it will ever be so.

    Small countries with small populations will never improve to being significant forces. That's just not how it works.

    While most would accept that you can judge little regarding the Englaqnd players from such a match, it makes me smile to see half a dozen or so posters on here (the usual suspects) unable to resist having a pop at the Man Utd players on the pitch.

    That, in a nutshell, is the cancer that eats England 'supporters'. Shallow and pathetic come to mind.

    Good angle on the debate though, Phil.

  • Comment number 63.

    i think it is very arrogant of us to say because of where we are, who can and cant play football at international level, if u take futsal or hand ball a sport where we are relative minos currently some of the bigger teams would say that playing against us, but that is where we are at, that said, i think maybe teams like malta, san marino etc should maybe have to do some prequalifying to weed out maybe a few of these teams whilst giving more of their games meaning.

  • Comment number 64.

    San Marino has as much right to take part in these qualifiers as any other country in Europe. To suggest that they should be restricted from the qualifying competition just because they don't have the skill, funding or 'success' of other nations is incredibly arrogant. What makes anyone think they're (as an Englishman/woman) better or more entitled than they are? They are a country, we are a country, we have an equal right to take part.

  • Comment number 65.

    @59 ted

    Carrick was awful. I think he may have been overawed by the opposition.

  • Comment number 66.

    It's interesting to read the comments re Pre-qualifying.

    Just a thought for those who oppose this idea, look at some other sports that have pre-qualifying -

    Cricket - Teams like Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Afghanistan, and Papua New Guinea all took part in a tournament to qualify for the World 20/20.

    Tennis - They have a qualifying system for the Davis Cup

    Football - Yes Football after all what are the first two rounds of the FA Cup other than pre- qualifying for when the "Big Teams" enter the cup.

    Do we hear protests about how insulting and unfair it is that the non league teams don't automatically have the right to take on the likes of Man Utd, City, Arsenal, Chelsea etc.

    UEFA have qualifying rounds for the Champions League and the Europa League.

    I find it hard to believe that players benefit from getting beat every match, or being forced to play with eleven behind the ball, and that their supporters deserve to have matches that have a meaning.

  • Comment number 67.

    Phil, I think you are right to raise this issue and Hodgson has been diplomatic in his comments. Left with no option but to play it, he has also been very pragmatic and used this game as a high profile practice match. As discussed in the impress coaching blog

  • Comment number 68.

    A pointless match really. We haven't learned anything because San Marino are a terrible team. The sooner there is a separate 'minnow' competition the better.

  • Comment number 69.

    I know 5-0 is a good result.
    I know San Marino just played with 11 men in the box (exaggeration but the point remains).
    I know that playing through 10 men is sometimes tougher than it should be.
    I know that 3 point are three points.
    I know that the players would no doubt have taken it a little easier than usualy being who the opponents were.


    I can't help feeling that even with it just being San Marino it showed up all of the faults of this England team. The passing was woeful at times, the ability to break through was pretty much non-existent. Defence has been a strong point with England for the last decade (if not longer) midfield is woeful no matter who seems to be playing there, and the attack is not much better.

    I cant help feeling distinctly underwhelmed

  • Comment number 70.

    If there were't any minnows left in the competition, who on earth would Scotland gets points against?

  • Comment number 71.

    @50 - Alright, calm down! Blimey, no need to get all hot under the collar over an issue which is really not important in the grand scheme of things.
    For what it is worth, our record in major championships tells its own story. Also, it isn't just about the 90 minutes thing. We are good at what we do which is be organised and defend for our lives against technically and tactically superior opposition. However, a top 5 side should be regularly in and around the semi finals of every major tournament. We don't even look likely to get there through our superiority over other footballing nations and rely on good old fashioned English bulldog spirit and luck to get even remotely close. Our recent record is decent against some very average national sides. We were poor in the recent Euros and have been beaten some dire sides since. The friendly with Italy doesn't count as we saw what they can do to us when it really matters in the Euros. The way I see it, we are a side comparable with the Croatias, Russias and Uruguays of this world. Always a dark horse but never a favourite or indeed likely to win anything soon. It is not a bad thing and we shouldn't be ashamed of it. We are not a world football power any more and won't be for some time. And I don't agree with @58 that we should play like Spain. I think their brand of football is boring. I would like to be excited by an England team but it just hasn't happened for quite some time. We have some very good players, maybe not world class but then most teams only have 1 or 2 truly top class players and the rest are merely very good. We just don't seem to be able to get the best out of what we have when in an England shirt.

  • Comment number 72.

    To add to the discussion of the ‘minnows’ in Europe I would be in favour of them having a separate competition with teams being promoted and relegated.

    I would have it something like this.

    World Cup qualifying with 30 teams - 6 groups of 5 teams. Group winners and 2nd placed teams automatically qualifying for World Cup. Then a play-off between the two best 3rd placed teams for the final spot.

    The remaining 23 ‘minnow’ teams play in a simultaneous competition – 3 groups of 6 teams and one group of 5 teams. Group winners and 2 best 2nd placed teams have a play-off with the 6 teams who finished bottom of their group in the World Cup qualifying competition. The 6 winners of the play-offs are in the World Cup main qualifying for the next tournament and the 6 losers go into the next ‘minnows’ competition.

    Based on current FIFA rankings the ‘minnows’ would be:

    FYR Macedonia
    Northern Ireland
    Faroe Islands
    San Marino

    This would mean less thrashings for the likes of San Marino and less pointless games for the top teams.

  • Comment number 73.

    I think teams like San Marino SHOULD BE allowed to compete in this competition, after all it is the WORLD CUP. I remember when a Andorra a team of 'no-hopers' drew with England, this is the beauty of cup competitions. I also believe that the champions league should have League champions in it, not teams who finish second, third or fourth or we are in danger of creating 'cosy' cup competitions for so called elite and under achieving counties and clubs.

  • Comment number 74.

    Sorry should have wrote Countries and clubs....I am new here!!!

  • Comment number 75.

    @ 14 - Jesus the teddy bear - You little beaut!

    I'm disgusted to read that some folk see Northern Ireland and smaller nations as 'riff raff' and should be booted out of these qualifiers. The system needs to be changed - agreed, but in the mean time we have to put up and shut up.

    Lack lustre performance from England - need to pick the pace up, not very exciting to watch and it will be interesting to watch what happens next!

  • Comment number 76.

    At 13:36 13th Oct 2012, Kíllìnghölmê_Clᥠ(aka Charlie Cheesecake) wrote:

    If there were't any minnows left in the competition, who on earth would Scotland gets points against?

    The way they are going they would be classed as minnows and be competing in the minnows tournament!

  • Comment number 77.

    @72. BaggiosPonytail:

    San Marino thrashings:
    Austria 7-0
    Finland 8-0

    Even teams who are described as fellow minnows have thrashed the plankton of world football. Even Wales have beaten them 5-0 and mighty Scotland by 6-0.

  • Comment number 78.

    Qualifying competitions for the minnows would mean non stop football for them. When are the winners of any qualifier to enter the current qualifying system suppose to play their games.
    At the time of qualifying for the Euros they would be playing pre qualifying for the World Cup.
    Why stop just at the World Cup, pre qualifying for the Euros would have to be organised because the arguement for the World Cup qualifiers is surely the same for the Euros because it involves the same teams.
    It works for clubs in England for the FA Cup because it is completed in one season.

  • Comment number 79.

    Phil, this seems like a predetermined blog post. It would be relevant to ask this question if San Marino had been beaten 15 - 0. But, for a team of non professional part timers, this was a fantastic result.

    Should we ask this question of the ROI after their hammering? I think it is disrespectful to bring it up. Many teams get hammered by 5. Yet rather bizarely, you also claim this was a handsome margin for an international fixture....which kind of dilutes your point that SM are below 'international standards' so to speak.

    We should be questioning why we can only win by 5. A 2nd division Eng select team would put more past them

  • Comment number 80.

    5-0 against San Merino .... couldn't expect any better from a second rate England team anyhow. Rooney as Captain of England...disgraceful that the manager chooses someone who deliberately elbows opponents off the ball and constantly criticises refs on the field. Where, oh where, are the quality players we used to see. Apart from Gerrard, Hart and (maybe) Cole we have no 'world class' players. Man of this match - Baines, and he's only a 'deputy' full back.
    But the FA have it all sorted...spend £109m on a new training facility and it'll all come right, they think!! But not until they limit the number of non English players per club squad, then we'll see native talent grow, though it'll take another 20 years or so.
    Meanwhile, clubs can continue paying rediculous sums in transfer and wages costs, fans will get ripped off, and England's international misery (against decent sides) will continue.

  • Comment number 81.

    No, 'èlite' teams should have to prove themselves against all comers. If they struggle it's because they are not as good as they think they are.

  • Comment number 82.

    San Marino and the others are countries but why should that in itself qualify them to take part in international football competitions? They consistently fail to compete at this level. Other sports such as golf have minimum standards for individual golfers so that the Open is a competition of near equals. Gifted amateurs have to prove they are exactly that. The recent Olympics had qualifying times to ensure only the best in the world took part. There were clear differences between individual athletes and the good were beaten by the best but they all reached that minimum standard so that no one was humiliated in competition. The attitude that everyone must be included may be good for society in general but makes less sense when applied to international football.

  • Comment number 83.

    I thought it was a fascinating game. How often do non-league teams with semi-professional players get beaten by more than 5 goals away to a Premier League team in the FA Cup? Not many. The situation last night was the same. Whereas the Premier League team would probably field a weakened team just to get a result, so did England.

    However, we have all seen the importance in last season's Premier League of goal difference in a competition. If San Marino have little chance of gaining a draw, let alone a win, in a competitive match, then they have to be considered a 'novel obstacle' to overcome when it comes to Euro Championship and World Cup qualifying groups. Each team in the group has to score as many goals against them as they can because effectively the group is made smaller by SM's inclusion. This means games against the other teams in the group take on even more importance. When only one team can progress from the group automatically, goal difference becomes more important.

    Describing San Marino as 'more plankton than minnows' (today's Telegraph) disgusts me and it never fails to leave an uneasy feeling when our press encourages the populace to have no respect for others - they have just as much right to compete in these competitions as England do. They tried their best - 84,000 people turned up to watch them get hammered but they still gave everything and 5-0 was a respectable score line for them.

    If people are going to talk about pre-qualifying, are we going to make Wales or Scotland do this too just because their populations sizes are not as large as England, Germany or Spain? Ridiculous to even think about it and I was ashamed to hear ITV commentators demean other 'fellow' European countries in this manner.

  • Comment number 84.

    At 14:05 13th Oct 2012, 1Voice_of_reason

    You are spot on in every respect.

  • Comment number 85.

    @77 Kíllìnghölmê_Clᥠ(aka Charlie Cheesecake)

    I did say less thrashings not none!

    I guess you could have a competition with proper minnows in which case it would only include about 8 teams. My thought was have a bigger second tier competition with opportunities for promotion and relegation.

  • Comment number 86.

    11 men behind the ball ? Remind me, how did Chelsea basically win the ELITE trophy last year ? open expansive football ?

    Someone mentioned Moldova, erm last nights result 0-0 with Ukraine - what about the Faroe Islands ? ask Sweden(you know the team we could never beat) how happy they were to come out of a 2-1 score. Remember the minnows of Norway when they were minnows and that night in Oslo against England ?

    Yes, these minnows away from home are not great shakes but hey tell me England when they go abroad to the actual finals, how well do they compete ?

    One last thing, a team against such minnows gets a full house, that tells you why English football will never improve. The authorities know fans will turn up no matter. Do you think the authorities are crying for San Marino to be banned as count the money today ? dont think so

  • Comment number 87.

    In the two-year gaps between major tournaments, European international football is little short of a farce. There's a huge gulf in quality between the various UEFA member teams, yet Euro and World Cup qualifying forces these hopeless mismatches every time. Two years! Two years we are forced to watch these nonsense matches, interspersed with pointless friendlies that are little more than televised training exercises. There is so little genuinely competitive football played at international level in these two-year periods, and the result is that fans and players alike become disinterested. The whole thing is devalued.

    There needs to be more competitive fixtures to allow national teams to play against opponents of more similar ability, and to do that UEFA needs to totally restructure European international football. They could make space in the calender by abolishing the pointless mid-season friendlies that nobody watches or cares about or wants to play in.

    Entire generations of players pass without facing each other in meaningful matches. For example: England have never played Czech Republic - we last played Czechoslovakia in a competitive fixture in the late 80s; the last time we played Spain or Holland was 1996 - none of those players are involved any more; this year's meeting with Italy was the first since 1997. It's a joke. We're lucky if we get 4 closely fought matches in any qualifying group - four games in two years to get excited about, and usually it's less than that.

    There's 50-odd teams under UEFA. I think they should be split into 3 tiers. One top group of, say, 8 nations playing each other home and away over a two-year cycle (eg. Spain, Germany, Italy, Holland, Portugal, France, Russia, England?). Then a 2nd tier split into 2 groups in paralel with promotion and relegation either into the top group or the 3rd tier. The 3rd tier comprising 4 groups, with promotion into the 2nd tier at the end of the cycle. You'd award the European Championship trophy to the winner of the top group after every 2 year cycle, and use it as the basis of WC qualifying. It would mean abolishing the Euro tournament in its current form, which would be a shame, but it would get rid of the mickey-mouse dross we have to sit through for the majority of qualifying campaigns. It would be fantastically competitive, and could rival the Champions League in terms of quality and interest - at the moment international football is nowhere near it.

  • Comment number 88.

    Not for the first time you have to question 'big Phils' status as the Beebs 'number 1 writer'. Is that title purely on the basis of his ability to toady to the 'big clubs' and their players in England shirts? As someone already (thank you) pointed out, there have always been 'mismatches' in international football and there always will be, even in the Final tournaments. Anyone remember Zaire? However, by the same token Mexico were the laughing stock of WC Finals - until fairly recently. Sometimes it takes years of beatings to get it right, just look at Apoels (largely ignored by the likes of Mcnulty) achievements last season. Deriding and dismissing fixtures against the current (note that word) 'lesser lights' only demeans the writer, not the fixture or the performance. Hell, anyone who watched England's, hapless, risible display against the Italians in the EC Q/F and then has the cheek to belittle others afterwards has some front!

    The sort of ignorance and bigotry in articles like this have no place on the BBC website.

  • Comment number 89.

    I thought the game was a great laugh! Come on, when do England ever go into a game with the chance to post a cricket score? Watching the San Marino players slice every clearance was hilarious too! The reason we only won 5-0 is simply because our players aren't very good. Joe Hart is the only world class player we have these days. Jagielka, Cahill, Walker, Cleverly, Carrick and Welbeck are average at best, and the others only marginally better than that. Wayne Rooney cannot be considered one of the best in the world because he is ridiculously inconsistent. He is just another example of an extremely talented footballer that hasn't ever quite lived up to his early promise (with the exception of a few brief spurts at man utd).

    I think we should enjoy playing these pub teams as when (hopefully) we get to the world cup we will be sent packing by the first good team we face.

  • Comment number 90.

    As an outsider looking in, for me the England v San Marino game summed up the problems with the English national team and how it is treated by the media and certain ignorant fans.

    Teams like Holland and Germany play San Marino, and beat them heavily, yet such disrespectful questions are not asked as to why the national team has to play such minnows.

    And then for some people to complain about a 5-0 win, it is frankly, laughable. The coach will have a difficult time motivating his players to be at 110% in such a game and yet still the result was a resounding win. The key in a match like this is to get the 3 points and give the fans their moneys worth. And those who attended the match, got their moneys worth.

    The journalists on the other hand, struggling to find anything to write about the match, resort to disgracefully having a go at the national team (instead of praising what was essentially "job done, and convincingly at that") and then disrespecting the right of a state to participate in European qualification on an equal footing.

    With the home nations having their own special status, people in glass houses should not throw stones.

  • Comment number 91.

    GEOFFREYSMITH Could you please tell me in what match Rooney.
    Has elbowed players and argued with the referee.
    With your comments you seem to suggest it is done every week.
    You say he is not worthy of captain yet you seem to be willing to.
    Have the likes of John Terry and many others who never seem to be out.
    Of the headlines as captain, or is it again a Rooney thing with you.
    The lad was a credit to England last night along with 10 others representing.
    There country although the performance was not great at times.
    Put it this way England would be poorer without him.
    If you are a poor player with 77 caps and 31 goals you haven't learnt much.

  • Comment number 92.

    Geoffrey Smith

    Gerrard is world class but ashley cole is only as maybe ?

    give your head a wobble

  • Comment number 93.

    Europe is out of step with the rest of the world for WC qualifying, minnows in all other federations have to do pre-qualifying.
    My home country of New Zealand (a larger minnow) has to beat the Pacific minnows and then play-off against the winner of another (Middle-East I think) smaller federation to get a spot at the finals, but in our first ever appearance in 1982 we had to win our Pacific group (which included Australia back then) and then win an Asia-MiddleEast group - they got there after playing 15 matches.

    So there appear to be 53 teams in the 9 Europe groups, I can easily see 6/7/8 teams that should play a pre-qualifying tournament to get the last 1/2/3 spots in a 48 team (8 by 6) Europe qualifying group.

  • Comment number 94.

    From a sporting point of view it's a complete no-brainer. Of course there should be pre-qualification.

    But it's all about the politics of international sport. There's no votes to be won and no kudos to be obtained by restricting access to international competition for those teams who just can't hack it.

  • Comment number 95.

    Actually I thought it was quite a useful match. England got to play a really packed defence and got some experience in trying to get through. They learnt it is not that easy to get through which was useful.
    The lone bad thing was the referee who should be informed of the laws of football. How that goalkeeper stayed on is beyond me!

  • Comment number 96.

    @88 Nelly, The lessons learned in getting spanked every game are not learned on the field, but in the infrastructure of the nations football.

    Mexico is a country of over 100 million people so, although initially taking beatings, their football infrastructure has clearly improved which would have created more interest in the game and allowed them to bring through more talent.

    With a population of just over 30,000 San Marino will never have the required talent to be able to compete at the highest level. Population wise, the Isle of Wight has five times more chance to field a team to compete.

    And, as people have mentioned negative displays by England against Italy and Chelsea in the champions league, you're all forgetting that although both teams may have had a negative approach to the games, neither got spanked by five goals. One team won, and the other lost on penalties.

  • Comment number 97.

    Qualifying groups are not competitive football. The less fancied nations have no chance of getting through against the current seeding system, and little opportunity to improve by playing in evenly-matched games. The highest ranked countries, meanwhile, get too few opportunities to test themselves against each other, and the standard of international football suffers as a result.

    At all levels it's wrong. It's akin to the likes of Man U, City, Chelsea etc being forced to 'qualify' for the right to face each other in an end-of-season mini-tournament by spending most of the year playing against a mixture of Championship, League 1 and League 2 clubs.

  • Comment number 98.

    91. At 15:00 13th Oct 2012, stanleyoates wrote:
    Could you please tell me in what match Rooney has argued with the referee.

    Spoilt for choice with that one.
    Could you narrow the question down a bit?

  • Comment number 99.

    #93 TomH
    Europe is out of step with the rest of the world for WC qualifying, minnows in all other federations have to do pre-qualifying.

    No they don't, South America do not have pre qualifying and the one time minnows have improved considerably in the last decade by mixing with the big teams. One size approach does not fit all federations.

  • Comment number 100.

    These teams will only improve if they play regular competitive football.

    Two groups of four, top team goes through and avoids pre-qual for next tournament. To be replaced by next lowest seed. etc
    Group A
    San Marino

    Group B
    Faroe Islands


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