London (AFP) – England made a confident start to their World Cup qualifying campaign as James Ward-Prowse and Ollie Watkins scored their first international goals in Thursday’s 5-0 win against San Marino.
Gareth Southgate’s side raced into a three-goal lead before half-time at Wembley in their opening Group I fixture.
Southampton midfielder Ward-Prowse started the scoring before Dominic Calvert-Lewin and stand-in captain Raheem Sterling netted against the out-classed minnows.
With first choice striker Harry Kane left on the bench, Calvert-Lewin staked his claim to serve as the England skipper’s main back-up when he scored again in the second half.
Aston Villa forward Watkins enjoyed a dream debut as he came off the bench to complete the rout in the closing stages.
Only some sloppy finishing and a fine display from San Marino keeper Elia Benedettini prevented England winning by far more.
The road to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is unlikely to be paved with many obstacles for England, who are by far the strongest side in their group.
Instead, the San Marino match, Sunday’s qualifier in Albania and Poland’s visit to Wembley on Wednesday, all serve as vital warm-ups for the delayed Euro 2020.
After that, Southgate has only two June friendlies against Austria and Romania to fine-tune his squad before the tournament starts in June.
Southgate’s 50th game as England boss won’t linger long in the memory given the paucity of the opposition, but he still learnt valuable lessons.
Calvert-Lewin’s predatory finishes were instructive, while Jesse Lingard, Mason Mount and Ward-Prowse all caught the eye in midfield.
– England dominance –
San Marino are bottom of the FIFA world rankings and have now lost 39 of their last 41 games.
Their team featured several part-time players, including second-hand car dealer Lorenzo Lunadei, who has to use his holiday allowance to take part in away games.
After taking the knee before kick-off in support of the anti-racism movement — following a team meeting to discuss whether to continue the gesture — England set about dismantling a San Marino side who had barely any preparation due to the coronavirus shutdown.
Lingard and Manchester City defender John Stones returned for their first England appearances since 2019.
Revitalised since joining West Ham on loan from Manchester United, Lingard set the tone with a 20-yard strike that forced a good save from Benedettini.
It was only a matter of time before England opened the floodgates and Ward-Prowse delivered in the 14th minute.
Mount picked out Ben Chilwell’s run into the penalty area and the left-back’s pass was confidently converted by Ward-Prowse from 12 yards.
Calvert-Lewin doubled England’s lead in the 21st minute as the Everton striker met Reece James’ cross with a clinical far post header.
Teed up by the influential Mount in the 31st minute, Sterling got the third when he weaved into the six-yard box for a shot that deflected in off Dante Carlos Rossi.
England’s dominance was so overwhelming they finished the half with 22 shots and 84 of the possession.
Southgate made four changes, including the introduction of teenage midfielder Jude Bellingham, at half-time and England settled for two more goals after the break.
In the 53rd minute, Lingard’s low cross was swept home from close-range by Calvert-Lewin.
Watkins’ meteoric rise from Exeter to England in the space of four years was complete when he drilled into the far corner from Phil Foden’s pass in the 83rd minute.
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