London: Public executions were popular sport in medieval times and there is clearly still a market for it, given the interest here in England’s efficient 5-0 annihilation of San Marino.
A crowd of 84,564 braved the Friday night rush hour traffic and the chilly tingle of October to watch Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck doubles and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s debut international goal condemn the world’s joint-worst team to a hiding.
The goals were greeted with some jubilation by the home supporters, many of whom had taken advantage of the FA’s commendable policy of slashing ticket prices to as low as £60 for a family of four.
But this modest occasion, pitting the team ranked fifth in the world against one sharing a 207th billing with Bhutan and the Turks & Caicos Islands, was played out to the soundtrack of a tame atmosphere, bar the unflinching efforts of the trumpeter in the England band.
The football was as tepid as England’s domination was total, with the crowd erupting in ironic applause when Ezequiel Rinaldi Danilo broke forward in the 65th minute and had San Marino’s first shot on goal.
Roy Hodgson could celebrate a routine win and three points ahead of Tuesday’s testing trip to Poland. But there was little else of note, other than Rooney’s second goal being his 31st in England colours, leapfrogging him above Alan Shearer, Tom Finney and Nat Lofthouse to fifth in the country’s goalscoring rankings.
However, there was a sour note for England, as well as Arsenal, in the shape of a serious injury to Theo Walcott.
He was on the receiving end of a horrible challenge in the fourth minute from San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini, who charged out of his area, jumped up and clattered the onrushing winger in the ribs.
A winded Walcott eventually groggily got to his feet and was escorted to the touchline by England doctor Ian Beasley before a stretcher was summoned to take him around the perimeter of the pitch. He was replaced on the right flank by Aaron Lennon.
Simoncini was not a popular figure among the home fans for the recklessness of his challenge but he demonstrated his athleticism with some fine reflex saves as England struggled to make their hoarding of possession count during the opening third of the match.
It was not surprising he had plenty of work. The visitors had no ambition beyond damage limitation. They sat deep, made no attempt to construct an attack of note and set themselves up as if manager Giampaolo Mazza had banned them from leaving their own half.
Inevitably, Roy Hodgson’s team carved out plenty of chances but there was a blunt edge to the attack.
It took 35 minutes and a penalty to break the deadlock. Seconds after hitting the post with a left-foot strike, Danny Welbeck was upended in the box and Rooney, wearing the captain’s armband, stepped up to smash in the penalty.
Two minutes later, Welbeck showed his cute backheel against Sweden at Euro 2012 was no fluke by scoring in almost identical fashion.
The expected avalanche did not materialise until the final quarter of the match. Rooney thumped in his second following excellent work by debutant Jonjo Shelvey, Welbeck matched his Manchester United colleague by doubling his account and Oxlade-Chamberlain made it five with a smart chip.