Sunday 25 March 2018

Revitalised Rooney plays leading role

England 5
San Marino 0

Henry Winter

England footballers usually keep accountants busy and San Marino's bookkeeper of a goalkeeper, Aldo Simoncini, was duly troubled by Wayne Rooney twice, Danny Welbeck twice and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

A victory by five goals against opponents who were more plankton than minnows was par, but the more significant scoreline in England's group came elsewhere: Ukraine drew 0-0 in Moldova where England had scored five. That was a real bonus for Roy Hodgson.

Other positives were a mature, goalscoring display from his captain Rooney, some alert finishes from Welbeck, who was named Man of the Match, and an occasionally bright performance from Oxlade-Chamberlain, who became England's fourth youngest scorer behind Rooney, Michael Owen and Tommy Lawton.

The downside was an injury for Theo Walcott, who went for a scan after being poleaxed by Simoncini, and is surely a doubt for next Tuesday's game against Poland. Another negative was that for long periods England lacked real guile against such modest foe.

The attendance was given as 84,654, a remarkable turnout for a World Cup qualifier against the joint worst team on the planet but once again there were gaps in the corporate sector, an issue the FA need to address. At least Hodgson's decision to hand the captaincy to Rooney was vindicated.

The last time Rooney had touched the ball for England it had been that penalty in the failed shoot-out against Italy at Euro 2012. Another penalty defined his return, although he needed 34 minutes before his spot-kick calmed England, taking him joint fifth alongside Nat Lofthouse, Tom Finney and Alan Shearer in the all-time goalscoring rankings.


Until then, England had been laboured for all the bright movement of Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose movement was fluid and assertive.

Hodgson had gone for pace and width, for Oxlade-Chamberlain and briefly Walcott, his selection also influenced by an unwillingness to risk the three players on a booking, Joleon Lescott, James Milner and Jermain Defoe, before the more daunting assignment in Warsaw next Tuesday.

Oxlade-Chamberlain had been first to show, collecting possession 20 yards and bringing a tip-over save from Simoncini after a short-corner routine between Michael Carrick and Welbeck. Walcott's evening then ended, following a shuddering collision with San Marino's goalkeeper Simoncini. If lacking the malevolence of Harald Schumacher on Patrick Battison in Seville 30 years ago, Simoncini's challenge was negligent and dangerous. No wonder Hodgson was furious.

One goal became two, this time from a delightful move. Kyle Walker played the ball to Tom Cleverley, whose through-ball released Lennon. The Spurs flier stroked the ball across for Welbeck to finish in style, flicking the ball home with the same elan and athleticism that characterised his goal against Sweden in the Euros.

The second half was hardly inspiring until Rooney struck again after Baines lined up one of his trademark free-kicks but it slid over.

Then England went through the gears, scoring two in three minutes.

After 70 minutes, Rooney struck his 31st international goal, a strong finish curling around Simoncini after good work by Lennon. Lightning struck twice again. When Cleverley got free on the right, his hard and low was turned in by Welbeck.

Hodgson had already brought on Jonjo Shelvey for his debut and now decided to withdraw Rooney, saving him for Warsaw. Andy Carroll loped on, the broadsword replacing the rapier. San Marino were tiring. When Cleverley threatened again, space opened up for Oxlade-Chamberlain to beat Simoncini with a fine finish. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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