After a solid, if unspectacular start to the World Cup qualifying process, England host San Marino on Friday (8pm BST on ITV1) looking for a morale-boosting victory ahead of the sterner test of a trip to Poland on Tuesday.
England thrashed Moldova 5-0 away from home in their opening qualifier before scraping a 1-1 draw at home to Ukraine thanks to an 87th minute penalty from Frank Lampard – who also scored twice against Moldova.
The four points gained from those fixtures see England joint top of the group alongside Montenegro and Poland.
Coach Roy Hodgson has not made any particularly surprising selections in his squad, although there are call-ups for youngsters Ryan Bertrand and Jonjo Shelvey. With two left-backs ahead of Bertrand in the pecking order and four central midfielders ahead of Shelvey, it is unlikely either will play a part, but they will nevertheless learn from the experience.
The major selection headache facing Hodgson in the build-up to these matches has been in centre of his defence.
England are 22/1 to win the World Cup 2014.
San Marino are 10,000/1.
Full World Cup Outright odds here
The guilty verdict handed to John Terry by the Football Association following his trial for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand caused Terry to retire from international football. Terry had started eight of England’s last nine competitive internationals and with Hodgson electing not to call upon Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, England’s defence in these two qualifiers will be lacking the international experience offered by that pair.
The most likely partnership is Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka, who played together in Terry’s absence in the 1-1 draw with the Ukraine last month. They should have a fairly easy ride against San Marino, but will need to use the match to acquaint themselves fully with one another ahead of the stiffer test to come against Poland four days later.
England played a 4-3-3/4-5-1 system in both of last month’s qualifiers. Jermain Defoe performed admirably up front on his own, as he has done for Tottenham Hotspur so far this season. With Wayne Rooney available for selection again, Hodgson is likely to elect for a return to a 4-4-2 formation, with Rooney partnering Defoe.
The player most at risk of being dropped in that scenario would be Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley. The 23-year performed superbly in the 5-0 win over Moldova, drawing numerous plaudits for his display, but struggled against the Ukraine, rushing in possession and making poor decisions.
Steven Gerrard is suspended for the San Marino match, which could offer Cleverley a reprieve, although Michael Carrick will also hope to be in contention for a first competitive start since returning to the national team set-up after Euro 2012.
James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started in the wide roles in both of last month’s matches and combined well for England’s fourth goal in Moldova. However, with Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson and an in-form Aaron Lennon waiting in the wings, Hodgson has plenty of choices for these positions and may elect to mix and match over the two matches.
England’s opponents on Friday are coached by a school P.E. Teacher and feature among their ranks five students, two bank clerks, two removal men, a barman and an accountant. The brothers Vitaioli, defender Fabio and midfielder Matteo, own a bar.
San Marino may only have one professional footballer in their squad – Mirko Palazzi of Italian fourth tier side Rimini Calcio – but they are keen to give a good account of themselves at Wembley and will be supported by 100 loyal fans who will be aboard the same charter flight as the players and staff.
But despite their best efforts it is highly improbable that San Marino will gain anything from Friday’s match. Of the 114 competitive matches the small, 33,000 population republic have played 108 have ended in defeat, five have been draws, and just one has yielded victory – a 1-0 win over Liechtenstein in April 2004. San Marino have scored 19 goals and conceded 473.
England v San Marino Betting Tips
San Marino’s previous two internationals against England resulted in 6-0 and 7-1 defeats. England are 1/100 favourites in this fixture and that is pretty much the shortest price you will ever see prior to the start of a football match. San Marino are 150/1 (BetVictor) to win, while the draw is best at a miserly 33/1 (Blue Square, BetVictor).
The home team showed in their 5-0 demolition of Moldova last month that they can be ruthless if the opportunity presents itself to run up a big score.
The bookies are being very conservative and are only offering limited Asian Handicap options. It is the correct score and goalscorer markets that therefore offer best value to punters shying away from the incredibly short odds on England to win the match.
- We fancy England to win five, six or seven to nil. Backing all three with level or weighted stakes will return a profit if England win by one of those scorelines. Therefore, back England to win 5-0 @ 11/2 (BetVictor, Paddy Power), England to win 6-0 @ 13/2 (BetVictor, Coral) & England to win 7-0 @ 8/1 (Betfred, BetVictor).
- Defoe is in excellent form at club level and will have a great opportunity to add to his international haul in this match. Back Jermain Defoe to score two or more goals @ 4/5 with Paddy Power. If that price suddenly vanishes then it is next best at 8/11 with Blue Square.