San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini has the perfect day job to go with the most depressing task in football: picking the ball out of the back of San Marino’s net.
Simoncini is a professional accountant, but even he will wince at the goals balance sheet. The 26 year-old has conceded an incredible 114 goals in his last 27 games and his debut for his national team in 2006 was welcomed with a 13-0 drubbing by Germany. In fact, out of San Marino’s starting eleven, only the left-back Palazzi is a full-time professional player and even he plays in the lowly Italian 4th Division. This fact alone meant that the task of notching up their first ever competitive win was already impossible from the outset. Against a full squad of professionals, the most that the joint-worst team in the world could do was delay their inevitable demise.
Surprisingly, they did so for half an hour, much to the frustration of a sell-out Wembley crowd. When Roy Hodgson’s stuttering outfit went 35 minutes without scoring against a side who concede seven goals a game on average in competitive away games, eyebrows were raised and murmurs of discontent spread around the stadium. England looked uncomfortably laboured as they tried to pick apart the two thick blue lines stretched across the pitch in a generous 5-4-1 formation. It wasn’t until Danny Welbeck was felled by the charging Simonici and Wayne Rooney smashed home the subsequent penalty, that the air of tension finally dissipated around the ground. Shortly after, Welbeck made it two by twisting to flick in an Aaron Lennon cross. This pattern repeated itself in the second half with Rooney and Welbeck both adding to their tallies. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rounded the evening off with a nice finish but the 5-goal victory against such modest visitors was barely a par score.
Hodgson’s selection choices were hampered by an unwillingness to risk the three players on a booking, Lescott, Milner and Defoe, before the far more testing prospect of Poland on Tuesday. He elected for pace and width, with Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott briefly and Aaron Lennon looking to get in behind the slow and cumbersome San Marino fullbacks. As is often the case, Oxlade-Chamberlain started with his youthful enthusiasm forcing a finger-tip save from Simoncini after the teenager cracked a dipping shot from range. Walcott’s evening was then brought to an abrupt conclusion and he was clattered by Simoncini in a nasty looking tackle. These fears were confirmed by later reports that Walcott had suffered a bruised lung, and would definitely miss the midweek trip to Warsaw.
San Marino continued to frustrate England. Simoncini denied Oxlade-Chamberlain once more, palming away his deflected shot. Rooney headed wide from close range and both Carrick and Welbeck were thwarted by the woodwork after the midfielder struck a sweet drive that thudded into the crossbar, and Welbeck could only steer the follow-up onto the post. England were getting closer. The breakthrough came soon after, Welbeck capitalised on a loose ball to sprint through the San Marino backline, just nicking the ball ahead of the onrushing Simoncini who duely brought him down in a tangle. Rooney blasted the resulting penalty emphatically into the roof of the net, and the striker must have been relieved to have finally scored his first goal of the season. Soon enough it was two, and this time from a beautifully worked move. Kyle Walker knocked the ball inside to Tom Cleverley who slipped Lennon in with a perfectly weighted through-pass. The Spurs winger then rolled the ball across the face of the goal from the by-line for Welbeck to finish elegantly, flicking the ball in with the same panache and style that he showed for his goal against Sweden in the summer.
The second half followed the same pattern. England had so much possession that when Joe Hart finally touched the ball it was met with raucous cheers from the home fans. A lovely interchange between the United trio of Rooney, Carrick and Welbeck, provided Carrick with a chance that he hit straight at Simoncini. Leighton Baines whipped a free-kick just over the bar until finally Rooney got his second after 70 minutes. On the edge of the box, Lennon just reached the ball ahead of several blue shirts, poking it to Rooney, whose strong, curled finished nestled into the far corner of the net. This was Rooney’s 31st goal for England, overtaking the likes of Alan Shearer and Tom Finney in the process. As in the first half, Welbeck quickly followed Rooney’s example. His Manchester United teammate Cleverely drilled in a cross from out wide, allowing Welbeck to nip in front of his man and poke home from 6 yards. As San Marino began to tire England added a fifth. Baines summed up his tireless evening with an adventurous run down the left flank before pulling the ball back to Cleverely whose fast feet laid the ball off to Oxlade-Chamberlain. The 19 year-old lofted the ball from under his toes over a stranded Simoncini. In doing so, Oxlade-Chamberlain and his father Mark, became the first ever father-son combination to score for England.
Although this was a laughably easy win for England, a sense of farce underlined this occasion. Danilo Rinaldi’s stumbling foray into the home box epitomised this feeling. As the furniture maker shrugged away the pursuing Gary Cahill and advanced on Joe Hart’s goal, the usual collective feeling of dread from the home support was replaced by roars of encouragement for the part-time Argentinian-Sammarinese footballer. These roars were replaced with disappointed sighs as the forward sliced his attempt high and wide. This is not how International football is supposed to be.