Wayne Rooney edged one goal closer to Bobby Charlton’s record as England coasted past the clothes salesman, the factory worker and the bar owner from San Marino with a simple if not spectacular 5-0 win at Wembley.
The 55,990 fans in attendance started to get anxious when England failed to open the scoring in the first 20 minutes, but Roy Hodgson’s team finally broke the deadlock through Phil Jagielka’s third international goal.
Rooney managed to find the net just before the break with a well-taken penalty. The strike moved the England captain on to 42 international goals — seven short of Charlton.
One can only imagine how many goals Rooney’s idol would have bagged in his pomp against this shoddy San Marino team, who fielded just one professional in their starting XI.
Danny Welbeck and Andros Townsend found the net in the second half and Alessandro Della Valle also scored an own goal to round off the win.
“We’re hoping not to win the group on goal difference, we’re hoping to win it by two or three points, so two, three, four, five tonight doesn’t really matter much,” said Townsend.
Milivoje Novakovic’s late penalty earned Slovenia an unexpected 1-0 win over Switzerland in their qualifier in Maribor.
In Group C, reigning European champions Spain were stunned in Slovakia 2-1. Juraj Kucka scored in the 17th minute before Paco Alcacer for Spain. Miroslav Stoch grabbed a late winner for Slovakia.
In Group G, Ola Toivonen grabbed a draw for Sweden at home to group rivals Russia. Alexander Kokorin had given Russia a 10th minute lead but Toivonen swooped on 50 minutes.
Meanwhile Manchester United forward Robin van Persie knows Holland need to beat Kazakhstan in Amsterdam tonight after a 2-1 defeat in the Czech Republic in their opening Group A fixture left Guus Hiddink’s side on the back foot.
The World Cup third-placed side will be looking for a first win since Hiddink replaced Louis van Gaal at the helm, and Van Persie knows the importance of a fixture the Dutch will be expected to win.
“We really need to win,” he said. “We are in this situation and everyone is aware the game should be won.”
Striker Ciro Immobile feels the Italy squad is more united under new coach Antonio Conte — and has played down the absence of Liverpool’s Mario Balotelli from their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers.
The non-selection of the Liverpool striker has dominated the build-up to Group H games against Azerbaijan tonight and Malta next Tuesday.
Coach Conte, who left Juventus in the summer to replace Cesare Prandelli, put his decision down to allowing the striker time to settle at his new club and added: “I make selections not exclusions, which is something completely different.”
Immobile said: “I know Mario very well. He’s a good lad, but it’s the coach who picks the squad.”
Elsewhere Arsenal’s injury problems continue to mount up after central defender Laurent Koscielny was released from international duty with France.
Koscielny has a minor Achilles problem and the decision is precautionary, with the Gunners confident he will be fit for the Premier League clash at home to Hull a week on Saturday.
Les Bleus play Portugal tomorrow and Armenia next Tuesday in friendlies building up to their hosting of Euro 2016.
It is the latest injury for Arsenal, who on Wednesday saw Mesut Ozil return from Germany duty with a knee injury. Ozil could be out for the rest of 2014.
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