San Marino 0-10 England: World Cup qualification secured but can Gareth Southgate’s squad take the next step?


Wins do not come more emphatic than that. This was England’s biggest competitive victory but competitive was hardly the word. It was total domination as Gareth Southgate showcased the quality of his squad and the depth at his disposal.

Never before have England scored this many goals in a calendar year. No team has scored more goals in World Cup qualifying. The standard of this particular opponent might cause some to temper their enthusiasm but this team are World Cup contenders.

Consider the struggles of others. Italy are heading for the play-offs after finishing below Switzerland in their group. Portugal join them there. Spain had to survive a nervy night in Seville against Sweden. Even Germany lost a game. England did not.

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Highlights of the World Cup qualifier between San Marino and England

It is a reminder that while Southgate’s side have made qualification look straightforward, it can be tricky. Their consistency stands out. Unbeaten in qualifying for a third World Cup in a row, they have only lost once in qualifying for any major tournament in a dozen years.

That England are so good at this is a testament to the attitude of the players and the spirit that has been fostered. That was once questioned. Now it is taken for granted. Such a culture is difficult to establish but Southgate has done so and that brings rewards.

It helps to assimilate new players and there were a number here. Conor Gallagher became the 50th player to make his debut under this England manager when he came on for the second half and came ever so close to scoring when his shot hit the foot of the post.

Emile Smith Rowe did score on his first start, an already trademark finish as he ghosted into the penalty box. There was an assist for the second of Harry Kane’s four goals too on a night that neither man is ever likely to forget. Aaron Ramsdale had rather less to do.

Also See:

  • England smash San Marino
  • England player ratings
  • How the teams lined up
  • Match stats

The emergence of this next wave of talent means that the choices facing Southgate are luxurious ones. He can leave out Manchester City regulars or the wing-backs of the European champions. He can go without a £100m man or the Liverpool captain.

The in-form Declan Rice was not required against San Marino so there was the pleasure of seeing Jude Bellingham glide across the turf as he delivered yet another mature performance. It deserved a goal but that was denied him by a harsh VAR review.

The question that remains is whether Southgate’s England can take the next step. Fourth at the 2018 World Cup, third in the 2019 Nations League and runners-up at Euro 2020, the task is obvious. Is this team building towards that or have they missed their chance?

There had been some speculations that it might be the latter given the dip in club form of key players such as Kane and Raheem Sterling. Two more heroes of the summer, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, have been enduring difficult periods with Manchester United too.

But Southgate is now able to play a role in rehabilitating his most reliable performers. Maguire scored on Friday against Albania and again in San Marino. Kane followed up his first-half hat-trick last time out by going one better this time around.

Players now look happiest in an England shirt. It was not always so.

Combine that with the sheer volume of young talent still coming through and it is easy to be persuaded that this is a group yet to reach their peak. Rice is 22, Phil Foden only 21. Both seem certain to be important players at the World Cup. Both are still improving.

Kyle Walker is the only man in this latest squad who will be over 30 come Qatar. Given the glut of first-class options at right-back, with Trent Alexander-Arnold delivering a crossing masterclass against San Marino, even that can hardly be considered a concern.

  • San Marino 0-10 England – Report and highlights
  • England ratings: Kane feasts; Smith Rowe arrives
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Perhaps the outstanding question is for the coach not his players.

The depth is so impressive that it seems reasonable to believe that the solution to ending England’s long wait for World Cup glory lies somewhere within this special squad of players. There is a combination there that can conquer all before them next winter.

Whether Southgate finds it will be dictated by the small decisions in the big moments. It might be a surprise selection in a semi-final or a proactive substitution at the right time on World Cup final night. That is what will define and decide Southgate’s 2022.

Until then, 10-0 wins over San Marino will do nicely.

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