England scored five but didn't complete impress as they beat San Marino
Preamble Good evening everyone. So, what's your prediction? 7-0? 8-0? The bookies have seen plenty of money for England to win by those scores - and more - tonight. As I wrote in my Guardian preview today, San Marino can be backed at 150-1 with the bookies to beat England. To put that in context, William Hill offers 100-1 that scientists announce the existence of the Yeti or the Loch Ness monster in the next 12 months. Listening to San Marino's likeable manager, Giampaolo Mazza, you would be better off backing Bigfoot.
"The only thing certain is that we will lose," he said. "We will play a very defensive game and try and limit the chances for their strikers. The number of goals [we allow] will depend on our performance and the last few minutes of the game, when we tend to concede more."
Mazza's emphasis on damage limitation is merely practical. Since 1990 San Marino have lost 108 of 114 international matches, scoring 19 goals and conceding 473. Germany thumped 13 past them in 2006; Holland 11 last year. San Marino's nickname is La Serenissima – the most serene – a poetically accurate description of their performances. So how will they fare tonight?
Teams: The big news for England is that Leighton Baines starts in place of Ashley Cole. What the Chelsea left-back makes of the news isn't clear ... yet. Otherwise England's side is full of youth and pace. San Marino's team is as expected, with Mirko Palazzi - who plays for Rimini in Italy's fourth division - their only professional player. They will be lining up in a 5-4-1 formation which is "more like a 9-1-0" according to the Gazzetta Dello Sport journalist I spoke to yesterday.
England (4-3-3): Hart; Walker, Baines, Jagielka, Cahilll; Carrick, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Cleverley, Welbeck, Rooney.
San Marino (5-4-1): Aldo Simoncini; Fabio Vitaioli, Davide Simoncini, Brolli, Palazzi, Cibelli, Coppini, Rinaldi, Della Valle, Gasperoni, Cervellini.
A plea: If you're one of the 90,000 people braving the shivery tingle of an October night at Wembley, can you email explaining why you're at the game? It's San Marino for goodness sakes!
Plenty of emails coming in, including this from Phil Sawyer: "Not often we see you in the MBM hotseat nowadays," writes Phil, who is clearly wearing his NHS-prescribed specs. "Is this you going back to your roots, keeping it real, reconnecting with that thrill of those early days of the OBO when the whole concept was so new and exciting? Or did the usual staffers refuse to come in on a Friday night?" I only make an appearance for the big events these days, Phil. Olympics. Paralympics. And, er, San Marino.
Wembley is swelling up nicely: Meanwhile Tim Woollias explains the unique attraction of tonight's fixture: "Two of my friends are there, each with their two boys," he says. "It's the perfect way to start a life of following England - initial optimism followed by serial disappointment. Oh and the San Marino Ultras aren't too scary either."
Roy Hodgson is asked about his decision not to pick Ashley Cole. His answer?
"I've got Leighton Baines. Leighton has done well and it's nice to keep one or two players up our sleeve for Tuesday's game [against Poland]. It needs to be professional, it needs to be disciplined. We want to entertain the crowd but we have to remember that everything we do tonight has to be just as good as against any other team. I'm pretty sure we will have plenty goal chances tonight."
Amazing scenes: As the San Marino national anthem is impeccably observed and applauded. This is Wembley, right? Meanwhile on ITV Clive Tyldesley points out that "You can officially get longer odds on San Marino winning tonight than the Loch Ness monster appearing in the next year." Hmm. Someone has been reading the Guardian this morning.
We're off! San Marino get the game under way. It maybe the only time they string together four passes tonight. "Good evening," writes Liam Moseley. "I would like to defend myself and others for watching this game. I have flu, have just finished my book and my DVD player is broke and that is why I am tuning in. That and I am ENGURLAND till I die."
2 min The pattern is established already: San Marino with nine men behind the ball, sitting deep, content to soak. And England trying to weave a route through their massed defenses.
3 min From a central position just outside the area, Oxlade-Chamberlain lets fly with a skimmer. It's straight at Aldo Simoncini, but swirling somewhat, and the San Marino keeper is content to push it over the bar.
4 min A terrible challenge by Simoncini, who charges out to the edge of the area then jumps up - Harold Schumacher style - and clatters Theo Walcott. The stretcher is on and he's getting treatment. That looked reckless in the extreme.
6 min Theo Walcott is up and - apart from sucking in air after being clattered in the ribs - doesn't look too bad. "Only 8.5 seconds in, and the first patronising chuckle of the evening from Andy Townsend," sighs Ben Stanley.
8 min Ah, scrub that. Aaron Lennon has replaced Walcott, who is still heavily winded..
10 min "Wow, Sean, you're really poking Hubris in the eye and giving her the cold shoulder tonight," says Phil Sawyer. "You do realise, if this is nil-nil at half time, whose door the baying mob will be breaking down, don't you? Well, obviously, it'll be that of the England dressing room, but once they've finished there they may march over to King's Cross to continue venting their spleen." Don't fret for me Phil, I've backed the second-half to contain the most goals at even money. If this is still 0-0 at half-time I'll be all-but-collecting my winnings.
12 min This is exactly as we imagined it would be: England pressing, probing; San Marino sitting deep. England's third corner, an inswinging rocket from Baines, is headed wide by Rooney. No harem scarem moments for the visitors yet.
14 min It's a bit flat at the moment. "Actually, I'm not at Wembley," says Richard O'Hagan. "But I can guess why people are. They'll be roughly divided into people who have paid £80k for a debenture and now don't dare miss a second of any game there, fans who hope to see England score a goal for once, and those who want to see another inept England performance against a lesser ranked side. The bigger question, though, is why are you there? Draw the MBM short straw, did you?" Ah. Er. Hmm.
16 min Ironic cheers as Joe Hart gets a first touch of the ball. This is still being played at exhibition pace. "Was it a terrible challenge?" asks my colleague Martin Rose. "I thought the San Marino keeper took the ball." There was some ball in there Martin, but there was an awful lot of man too. It was a dangerous challenge in my book, but I realise there are sometimes different rules for Midlanders ...
18 min Brolli nearly, ahem, rains on San Marino's parade: he swung a boot at a cross and nearly sent it into his own net. That's probably the closest England have come to scoring.
19 min Latest best odds with the bookies. England 1-100, draw 66-1, San Marino 325-1.
21 min Better from Rooney, who drops off his marker and finds Walker bombing down the right. But Walker's cross is deflected and snagged well by Simoncini.
22 min Rooney, who is perhaps growing in frustration, tries a potshot. It's deflected wide for a corner, which once again comes to nothing. "I feel someone should point out to the commentators that 0-0 is still a cricket score," says Peter Harmer. "For a football match to not be a cricket score the away team would have to score 11 or more. Pedants 1-0."
24 min Another long-range speculator, this time from Kyle Walker, fails to accumulate: it's deflected for a corner, which comes to nothing. Simoncini is yet to make a decent save.
26 min Save! Oxlade-Chamberlain smashes a shot from 15 yards out, but it bounces off Simoncini and goes clear. "I appreciate that Andy Townsend's commentary is not the stuff of Mailer-on-Ali, but ITV-dissers should count their blessings," says Ryan Dunne. "Here in Scotland, not only is the football not on, but a film is being shown instead. And that film is Mama Mia! Not to be stereotypical, but if ITV asked a hundred people what film is 'the opposite of watching football' then I suspect Mama Mia! would be the answer." My sympathies, Ryan. Surely that's up there with the worst films in history. Managed about 10 minutes before I switched rooms.
28 min A San Marino defender swings and misses a high ball. The crowd wolfwhistles. That's the level we're at, folks.
29 min Chance for Cahill, who expertly chests down a loose ball from a corner, but doesn't get his shot from 10 yards off quick enough. "Could you remind us of the purpose to having the likes of England play San Marino?" asks Geoff James. "One gets the sense that its value is solely in the opportunity for English fans to see, for once, their team predominate. No idea, though, what it does for the game of football itself." It's still 0-0, Geoff. That, perhaps, is your answer.
30 min This is as flat and unappetising as a bottle of low-alcholic lager that has been left out for a fortnight. Another corner is double-fisted clear by Simoncini.
32 min What a miss from Rooney! Cleverly works some space down the right and sends over a deep, booming cross to the back stick, where Rooney has got a march on his man. But from three yards heads wide!
33 min: ENGLAND HIT THE WOODWORK TWICE! Michael Carrick smacks his shot against the bar, then Welbeck hits the follow up against the post. England are getting close now ...
34 min: PENALTY TO ENGLAND Wellbeck is in the process of taking the ball round Simoncini when he is clipped. The San Marino keeper is booked. Wayne Rooney steps up ...
35 min ... AND MAKES IT ENGLAND 1-0 SAN MARINO! Rooney's kick, high to Simoncini's right, was always going in. Now can England kick on?
ENGLAND 2-0 SAN MARINO (Wellbeck 37) Danny Welbeck backheels it in from close range, just like he did against Sweden at Euro 2012. "Maybe I've missed a rule change, but is there any reason why Lennon refuses to take on his man, or attempts in any way, to go forward?" says Andy Bradshaw. "I've yet to see a forward run or a pass that isn't backwards from him." He's not had a great deal of play so far, Andy... but he did provide the cross for that goal.
40 min It's all England now. Rooney's curler from centre-left is probably just going wide but Simoncini makes sure by tipping it around the post. "Maybe this game should be played as a handicap match," suggests Matt Dony. "If it ends 4-0 or less, then San Marino get the three points. 5-0 is a draw. 6-0 upwards is a glorious victory for Roy's Boys." The handicap was +5.5 goals before this game Matt ...
43 min The Wembley crowd seem happy enough, and chants of Ing-Er-Land are bouncing around the stadium. But Geoff James is unimpressed. "Players and fans are cheering as if something worthwhile has been accomplished. (The announcer referred to Rooney as 'Captain Courageous' after the penalty.) They've scored against accountants, salesmen, and insurance agents ... pathetic."
45 min A half-hearted appeal for a penalty as Aaron Lennon goes down under the lightest pressure. We'll have three minutes of injury time.
45+2 min Cleverly, who has been increasingly influential as the half has worn on, floats a pass onto Welbeck's chest. But the ball doesn't come down in time and San Marino clear. A few seconds later, Oxlade-Chamberlain's scuffed shot from 20 yards is easily saved.
Half-time Peep! Peep! England offered little imagination for the first half-hour, but they'll probably settle for being 2-0 up at half-time. It wasn't great though. Meanwhile Martin Rose writes: "Am enjoying seeing how inadequate England are. The Sunday morning team I used to play for are better than San Marino and we never knew where we were playing until about 2am on the morning of a game when we all met up in a nightclub."
Thoughts from the ITV staff "Shocking," says Roy Keane. "England should be 5-0 up." Gareth Southgate believes San Marino shouldn't be here. They're not impressed all round.
We're off again ... Meanwhile David Leach is unhappy. "Why the constant references to day jobs and then patronising and sneering comments from Townsend?" he writes. "As a person who had a 'normal' job, the level of performance those San Marino fellas are delivering is actually astonishingly high when you consider it not their full-time job."
46 min: Theo Walcott has gone to hospital for a cautionary scan on his chest. "Whatever England do at least they won't have to worry about being the most embarrassing team of the round," argues Jan Krčmář. The Czech republic have that trophy in the bag. A 3-1 at home against Malta. And it was 1-1 for a while." Have you seen the Ireland score, Jan? They're 5-0 down. At home.
49 min: England are pressing but, like a man who has had a severe parachuting accident, they're looking disjointed.
52 min This is the sum of San Marino's ambition: they make two passes - a rarity for tonight - before thumping the ball long down field. To no one. Meanwhile John Dunnet writes: "I went to Wembley with a pal in 2010. 0-0 draw. The stadium is lovely but everything else is pants. Swore would never waste the money again. Before game music was so loud my eyeballs exploded (and I play drums). Once my eyes had healed through use of my super healing powers I was then was blinded by the incessant flashing ads as I was in Row D and had them at eye level. Wembley roar? Wembley bore."
54 min Best move of the night from England - a rapid-tempo, four-pass move, complete with a Welbeck stepover, ends with a Carrick shot being saved. Seconds later a long cross finds Cahill, eight yards out and unmarked, but instead of chesting it down he attempts to take the hide off the ball and wildly miskicks.
56 min The half-tempo game of attack v defence continues. "Since when is Gareth Southgate the arbiter of whether a team deserves to be there or not?" fumes Tim Wheatcroft. "Surely the fact that they are holding the world's 'fifth-best' nation 2-0 says that they are very much entitled to be there. Arguably more right than say, Arsenal have to be in the so-called Champion's League, having not been a champion in eight years."
58 min Another half-chance, another half-save: Oxlade-Chamberlain's deflected shot bobbles along the turf and is pushed away by Simoncini.
60 min Another scuffed shot - this time from Cleverley - bounces off the turf. The Wembley crowd, which has been very patient so far, is getting restless. "Bored English fans may be interested to hear that Gylfi Sigurdsson has banged a free-kick in off the upright to give Iceland a 2-1 away win against Albania in Group E," says Mark Asch in Reykjavik. Sounds more interesting than this.
62 min "Pundits keep saying San Marino shouldn't be here, but what exactly do they expect?" asks Matt Dony. "Do nations need to reach a minimum population before they can play international football? Where do you draw the line? And, come on, how much ambition do you expect them to show? If you're going to write them off and patronise them, at least suggest what could be done about the situation." The general suggestion is that they should have to pre-qualify, with the likes of Andorra and Liechtenstein, Matt, with the best one or teams getting through to the World Cup proper.
64 min A 25-yard free-kick from Leighton Baines brushes the side-netting. There is applause as the crowd of 84,600-and-something is announced.
66 min A half-chance for San Marino! The visitor's break and Rinaldi sees the lights and goes for glory: sadly his shot from about 20 yards is well wide.
67 min England sub: Carrick off, Shelvey on.
68 min: England's 14th corner of the night is cleared. Hart touches the ball for, I think, the fourth time. The crowd cheer. There's not much else to be excited about.
69 min: This is poor. "I think the idea of pre-qualifiers is sound," says Ben Dunn. "Many teams are unable to compete at this level in a league format. Groups of four with the winners going through to the finals would reduce pointless games like this. Something like the FA cup letting in the big-boys in round three."
ENGLAND 3-0 SAN MARINO (Rooney, 70) A lovely crossfield pass from Shelvey goes out left, is pinged into the box, and breaks to Rooney, who thumps home from just outside the box. About time.
ENGLAND 4-0 SAN MARINO (Welbeck, 72) That's more like it! Cleverly's cross from the byline is stabbed home from in close range by Welbeck.
73 min England sub: Wayne Rooney off, Andy Carroll on.
75 min England have got their tails up here. Meanwhile Ben Stanley writes in with a message for Tim Wheatcroft. "The reason San Marino are keeping it relatively close is because they are not so much parking the bus as parking the bus depot. If they were making any sort of attempt to contest this match, never mind win it, they'd be getting a hammering."
76 min San Marino sub: Coppini off, Buscarini on for his first cap.
ENGLAND 5-0 SAN MARINO (Oxlade-Chamberlin, 77) The best goal of the night. Baines, who has been excellent, cuts in from the left and finds Cleverley, who jabs it to Oxlade-Chamberlin. The winger appears to have very little room, but he shuffles his feet and lobs a delightful chip over Simoncini.
79 min San Marino sub: Andy Selva, his country's best player and top goalscorer, comes on. Not sure who he replaced.
81 min Shelvey takes a San Marino defender out with a nice stepover but his shot is straight at the keeper. "If you had World Cup prequalifying, wouldn't you deny income to the FAs of those nations?" asks Nick Parkhouse. "They would potentially lose the opportunity to fill a stadium through selling tickets for a glamour fixture against one of the 'big' teams, so their income would fall and they'd have less cash/be even less likely to compete in future?" Pretty sure San Marino's stadium has a capacity of 7,000 so I don't think they'd get much money from ticket sales. TV revenue, on the other hand, would be higher.
83 min San Marino sub: Vitaioli off, Bascciocchi on.
85 min Plenty of empty seats at Wembley now as some people try to beat the rush for the Wembley Park tube. "I can understand the logic, but talk of pre-qualifiers always reminds me of that Dilbert strip where Wally sardonically wonders whether it's safe to jump into a pre-meeting without having a pre-pre meeting first," says Ryan Dunne. "How long before punching-above-their-weight diddy teams start claiming that there should be pre pre-qualifying for the REAL minnows?"
87 min Danny Welbeck, who has scored twice tonight, has been named man of the match. Can see the logic, but wouldn't have argued with Baines either.
88 min: On ITV, Clive Tyldesley is talking about the likes of James Milner "being left out of the firing line" against San Marino tonight. Hmm, what kind of firing line is that?
90 min We'll have three minutes of additional time. Meanwhile Phil Sawyer is back. "I disagree with the idea of pre-qualifiers, much as I disagreed with the delaying of the introduction of the bigger teams into the FA cup until round three," he writes. "'m still an old football romantic and like the idea that, just occasionally, the Rushden and Diamonds of the world might just pull off a shock victory against the Manchester Uniteds. Pre-qualification, like the third round rule, lessens this chance. Also, this is the World Cup. The clue's in the name. Every country should have the right to take part in full qualification. No matter how slender their chances are." Personally would happily forego more nights like this - it's had about as much drama as Saturday night on ITV.
Full-time Shortly after Carroll's volley is well saved by Simoncini, the referee blows up for the night. It wasn't exciting, or particularly competent, but the Wembley crowd seems happy enough and applaud the players off the pitch. Meanwhile Matt Dony emails in with the final word on pre-qualification. "It's a difficult balance to strike," he says, not unreasonably. "Argentina's rugby team struggled for years without enough top class opposition, but will improve now they've joined the tri-nations, in the same way Italy are stronger than they were before joining the six nations. On the other hand, with such limited resources and population, how much better can San Marino hope to get?" Exactly right, Matt. Anyway, that's it from me. Thanks for all your emails - sorry I couldn't use them all. Thanks, Sean