San Marino v England: Back another fast start for the Three Lions

Paul Higham says even with some changes, Gareth Southgate will send England out to confirm their World Cup qualfication in the first half against San Marino...

San Marino celebrate England anniversary

Almost 28 years to the day since San Marino's famous goal against England the Three Lions will face the minnows of world football again but this time in the last stop on another cruise to a World Cup finals.

For pub quiz aficionados among you it was Davide Gualtieri who struck after 8.3 second for San Marino in what finished as a 7-1 win for England but will only be remembered for that most unlikely of starts.

San Marino remain the whipping boys of international football - losing their last 35 qualifiers in a row and 36 of their 37 home World Cup qualifiers with a draw against Turkey in 1993 their only positive result.

They did manage a goal against Poland in this campaign, but even a goal seems miles out of reach in what will be a celebration game for visiting England.

Southgate to make changes

Officially it's a point needed to confirm England's place at the World Cup in Qatar next year, but in truth Gareth Southgate's side punched their ticket with that dominant victory over Albania.

Even if the world ended and somehow San Marino won, Poland would still need to make up a six-goal swing on the Three Lions in their game against Hungary so England can already start their plans for the weird and wonderful experience of a winter World Cup in the Middle East.

To that end, Southgate should mix it up a bit in terms of selection for the final game of qualifying, especially with Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Jack Grealish leaving the squad and Mason Mount and Luke Shaw remaining absent.

Conor Gallagher has received a call-up to the squad, and the likes of Jude Bellingham, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Bukayo Saka and even Emile Smith Rowe are vying for starting spots.

The Three Lions have won their seven games against San Marino 42-1 on aggregate and after starting their record-breaking scoring year (42 goals in all competitions) with a 5-0 win over San Marino, it'd be a fitting end to record another comfortable victory to celebrate reaching another World Cup at a canter.

Goals fancied but scorelines may be value

Just for the record, England are 1/80 and San Marino 80/1 on the Sportsbook but you can name your price on the exchanges for backing a monumental upset, with even the draw 55/1 but obviously they're not markets you should be involved in.

England did all the damage in the first half against Albania and even with a raft of changes you'd expect them to bag a few in the opening 45 minutes here too. Whether they'll go on to match the 6-0 or 8-0 wins of their last two visits depends on how Southgate goes about making his subs during the game.

England haven't conceded a goal against a team drawn from the final pot in a World Cup qualifier for 20 years and that won't change here against a side who had just one shot against Hungary in their last game.

The sweet spot for goals is around about the six or seven mark going on the odds, with over 6.5 at 2.15 but under 5.5 at 2.38 if you think England will take their foot off the gas completely once they get that far ahead.

Backing both a 6-0 and 7-0 England win at 6.0 and 7.0 respectively may be the way forward to offer up a bit more value in what is a tough betting heat to get involved in given the circumstances.

Back a fast start despite changes

With 12 goals in 2021, Harry Kane has equalled the record tally for a calendar year, so there's every chance he could see the field in San Marino to try and set a new mark.

Kane averages a goal or assist every 53 minutes in qualifiers (28 goals and 9 assists in 26 games) and you'd fancy him to score no matter how long he gets.

A problem here is second-guessing Southgate's selections, although injuries have narrowed down his options somewhat, but you'd imagine Bellingham and Saka will start and both will be dangerous in the attacking third.

With then the likes of Foden, Smith Rowe, Kane and Tammy Abraham to select from, England's attacking options are still more than enough, and Southgate's instructions will be to start quickly again and get the job done in a similar fashion to Albania.

A much-changed England scored twice in the first half in Andorra, who are a better side than San Marino, so they can better that here before easing down to celebrate reaching the World Cup in style.

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