There were no wild celebrations in the England camp following their resounding win in San Marino on Friday.
An own-goal set Roy Hodgson’s side on their way after 12 minutes in the Stadio Olimpico di Seravalle, with a brace from Jermain Defoe and a goal each from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge securing an easy 8-0 away win.
This was England’s biggest win since they despatched Turkey at Wembley Stadium by the same scoreline back in 1987, and it was as comfortable a run out as they could have asked for ahead of the sterner test which awaits in Montenegro on Tuesday night.
A late Mirko Vucinic goal gave Branko Brnovic’s ten men a 1-0 win in Moldova on Friday, meaning they remain in control of Group H, holding a two-point advantage at the halfway stage. So as much as Hodgson welcomed the slaying of the nation ranked 207th in FIFA’s standings, he knows the real challenge will come in Podgorica.
“We’re not jumping around with high fives in the dressing room,” said the England manager. “We’re pleased with a professional performance and the quality of the play: good movement, technique and passing against a team who were not really in our league. But, if we control the ball and move as well as we did, we’ll give opponents problems.
“It would be a great lift to win in Montenegro on Tuesday, but, if we don’t get it, I won’t be getting the spade out to dig a grave for the team. There are 15 points to play for and the team is capable of getting a large number of those points to see us through. Last month’s friendly win over Brazil gave us confidence and most people will look at the football we played tonight and revel in the fact there were exceptional moves and goals in there.”
The selection against San Marino gives indications of who Hodgson will turn to on Tuesday night. Steven Gerrard, the captain, is sure to return to the side after sitting out the action against the minnows, as did his Liverpool team-mate Glen Johnson. Ashley Cole and James Milner were also rested on the basis they were one booking away from a suspension, which perhaps suggests they will also feature against the Montenegrins. And despite Defoe’s two-goal salvo, Danny Welbeck could be drafted in to link up with his Manchester United pal Wayne Rooney.
One player who definitely won’t figure is Theo Walcott. The Arsenal forward was ruled out of both qualifying matches on Friday, after a scan in Italy revealed a groin problem. The Gunners are said to be hopeful he will recover in time for their home clash with Reading on March 30.