Perfect Ten as England Reach Qatar

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San Marino 0–10 England

  • England scored ten in Serravalle as they thrashed San Marino to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
  • Harry Kane scored another four first-half goals, tying him level with Gary Lineker in third in the all-time England top goalscorers list with 48.

England have been here before. Critical qualifiers away to San Marino haven’t always gone England’s way. But they didn’t suffer the ignominy of conceding to an electrician eight seconds into this edition of the fixture — and from that point onwards, it looked as though Gareth Southgate’s team might just get the job done.

In all seriousness, England approached this non-contest in all seriousness. Harry Kane’s begging finally paid off as he was handed a start against one of the qualifying group’s minnows. And thanks to his four-goal haul — the most for an England player in a single game since Ian Wright (who watched on sheepishly from the ITV studio) also scored four away to San Marino — they led 6–0 at the break. Yes, he scored all four in the first half.

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England won 8–0 here under Roy Hodgson in March 2013, but here they were even more hungry, ruthless, rampant and clinical. The Three Lions scored six in each half — two of them harshly disallowed — and so left the pitch 10–0 winners. Not since 1964 versus the then-amateur United States had England hit double figures in a game, and never before had they done so in a competitive international.

San Marino went down to ten men in the second half, but the three points would have been comfortably the visitors’ regardless. Indeed, they already were. England were 7–0 up at the time. It was a win which means England will almost certainly finish as Europe’s top scorers in qualifying again, having done the same en route to Euro 2020. Whichever way you look, it’s only positives for England at the moment.

With thousands of England fans in attendance, and a couple hundred more perched on a conveniently placed hill behind the goal, the visitors began their night’s easy work. Within five minutes, Harry Maguire had leapt highest from a Phil Foden corner to slab his head onto the ball and direct it into the corner past goalkeeper Elia Benedettini. It was the perfect start for England who almost comically knew they needed at least a draw here… against the world’s lowest-ranked side.

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Maguire became England’s outright highest-scoring defender in history, notching his seventh for his country. He started the demolition job against Albania on Friday. It wasn’t a case of whether he had done so again here. It was a matter of fact. England were about to score a hatful. It was a question of whom and how many.

Bukayo Saka started on the left flank and looked as dangerous as anyone in the opening exchanges. He got his slice of luck on 15 minutes as his tame effort squirmed in via a huge deflection off Cesena-owned teenager Filippo Fabbri. England had two and Saka thought he had four for his country. But UEFA later took his slice of luck away by calling it a Fabbri own goal which, as good as Saka was on the night, it was.

England kept the pressure up and nearly scored a beauty as Phil Foden wound up an acrobatic volley that curled wide. On second viewing, it had brushed the raised arm of defender Dante Rossi on its way out of play. With the help of VAR, England had a penalty. Kane had a chance for his first of the night. Rossi was cautioned, and then Kane stepped up to send the ball sensibly down the middle of the goal. Past Jimmy Greeves he went. By now, Kane’s 13 goals in 2021 is the most an England player has ever managed in a single calendar year. Breaking records with practically every goal now.

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He wasn’t done there. Lively and inventive on his first England start, Emile Smith Rowe crossed from the left. The pass evaded Foden, but Kane was on hand to volley down into the ground and precisely into the bottom-right corner. He had two in five minutes. And he would only need to wait another five for his third.

Following a hairy moment as San Marino’s best player Nicola Nanni forced a smart stop by deserving debutant Aaron Ramsdale, Kane won himself a penalty up the other end. He nodded the ball against the arm of Alessandro D’Addario, and the referee gave another spot-kick. Kane had played safe with his first… and so showed off with his second. And why not?

With a penalty rivalled only by the monstrous camera-breaking strike of Harry Maguire in the Euro 2020 final this summer, he walloped the ball high into the extreme reaches of the top left corner. It was a stunning penalty from a man who now had six goals from two caps. Hat-tricks in successive games — and only 39 minutes had been played.

The fifth came shortly after — was Kane’s again — and was the goal above the others that truly showed how excellent a striker England’s captain is. Poor club form of not, criticism or not, San Marino or not, Southgate’s best player is a forward any team in the world would want. He dribbled into the box, sold Fabbri a dummy, and then nutmegged Manuel Battistini with a fine low shot that tucked itself into the corner very nicely indeed. It was 6–0 and the dressing rooms were still empty.

If Ramsdale’s debut was relatively nondescript given his position and San Marino’s uselessness, the next England debutant would engage with play far more. Crystal Palace’s Conor Gallagher — only brought into the squad on Saturday following a raft of withdrawals — was handed 45 minutes to show what he was about. Ben Chilwell and Tammy Abraham followed him on as Maguire, Foden and Kalvin Phillips made way.

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Smith Rowe capped his night off with a first international goal on 58 minutes. Saka crossed for Abraham, who intelligently flicked the ball back for the onrushing Smith Rowe. The 21-year-old slammed the ball smartly into the corner for England’s seventh and his first ever. A nice moment.

Reece James came on for Kane, who had filled his boots and secured his match ball. Within minutes, the hosts were reduced to ten men. Rossi received his second yellow, and England had a free-kick in a presentable area. Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t have his best night in an England shirt. Indeed, he’s still yet to translate Liverpool stardom to international form, but his delivery was predictably excellent. Tyrone Mings stooped to send an intelligent header looping over Benedettini and into the top corner. Eight for England.

Gallagher then hit the post at the start of a strange attack that ended with 18-year-old Jude Bellingham hammering a cracking volley into the goal for the best of the night and his first England goal. Except it wasn’t. Abraham was adjudged to have followed through on Lorenzo Lunadei and received a ridiculous yellow card. Bellingham will have to wait a bit longer. Not nine, still eight.

But Abraham atoned for the error he’d hardly made, and scored the ninth himself. England were having a field day down the right, and another peach of a cross from Alexander-Arnold helped the Roma striker to his first of the night. Abraham controlled, swivelled, and volleyed accurately into the corner. Double figures were coming, and you could sense the part-timers were fully aware.

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One minute more is all it took. Alexander-Arnold grabbed his third assist — all for consecutive goals — as he whipped into the box for Saka to nod in.

For the first time ever in a competitive game, England had scored ten goals. It was a goal that stopped the jubilant and ever-committed travelling fans singing “we want ten,” and one which left Southgate walking back to his dugout smiling wryly almost half-embarrassed. It was a measure of the opposition that Alexander-Arnold made a somewhat nervy, error-prone display, and still came away with a hat-trick of assists.

Abraham then scored a fine header harshly ruled out for pushing, and that was about it. 52 goals in a calendar year is truly ridiculous from an international team. Arsenal only struck three more than that in the Premier League all of last season — and they played double the number of games. England reach the World Cup with no fuss but plenty of gloss.

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