Serravalle, San Marino: England showed no mercy in their World Cup qualifier against San Marino on Friday, thrashing the joint-bottom team in the FIFA rankings 8-0 to record their largest win in 26 years. Jermain Defoe scored in each half, Wayne Rooney took his international tally to 34 goals, and there were other goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Frank Lampard, Ashley Young and Daniel Sturridge at the Stadio Olimpico.
An own goal by Alessandro Della Valle set the visitors on the way to their biggest margin of victory since an 8-0 win over Turkey in a European Championship qualifier in 1987. It was the perfect warm-up for England's attackers ahead of Tuesday's crunch match against Group H leader Montenegro, who are two points clear of Roy Hodgson's side after five games and halfway through qualifying.
"It couldn't have been much better could it?" Hodgson said. "I thought it was a very, very good, professional performance and obviously we are a class above our opponents." Little can be read into this performance by a largely second-string England lineup, however. It was always going to be a case of how many the visitors racked up against a team with just one win in history - in a friendly against Liechtenstein in 2004 - and who were heading into the game on the back of 50 losses in a row.
And by halftime, when England were 5-0 ahead, there was a chance the national team's record win - 13-0 over Ireland in 1882 - could be threatened. It was embarrassingly one-sided, and Germany coach Joachim Loew would have used this game as evidence after arguing this week that there should be a pre-qualifying round for the so-called smaller nations. There was ironic applause whenever England goalkeeper Joe Hart touched the ball.
The likes of captain Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson should return on Tuesday after being rested here, giving fringe players a chance to stake their claims. "I think it was one of those games where everyone brought his straw to the water," Hodgson said. "I wouldn't like to criticize anyone. "It was really good to see so many players, who haven't got many caps to their name, showing they deserve to be in the England squad. When it's their turn to play they can come up with the goods."
The match gave England's players a chance to boost their goal tallies - and Rooney's goal inches him closer to Michael Owen, who is fourth on the country's all-time list with 40. The first goal was actually scored by a San Marino player, center back Della Valle turning the ball into his own net in the 12th from a cross by marauding left back Leighton Baines.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, who volleyed against the bar early on, made it 2-0 in the 28th after exchanging a one-two with Rooney and then headed down for Defoe to tap in for his first goal for club or country in 2013. There was still time in the final six minutes of the first half for Young to smash in a wonderful 30-yard strike off the underside of the bar, before Lampard coolly slotted in a sidefooted finish after Rooney dummied a cut-back from Baines.
It was the first time England had scored five goals in a first half since a win over Luxembourg in 1999, and the visitors weren't stopping there with Rooney getting in on the act with a curling free kick in the 54th. Unsure of his place in Manchester United's starting lineup at present, Rooney is still the No. 1 striker for England and he has now scored in four straight international games. Substitute Sturridge grabbed his first England goal by heading in Young's cross in the 70th, and Defoe wrapped up the scoring in the 77th by flicking in a cross from Tottenham teammate Kyle Walker.
"Often when you're leading by that margin at halftime, the second halves tend to die out but this one didn't," Hodgson said. England has a central-defensive injury crisis at the moment, with Rio Ferdinand, Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill all pulling out this week. But a backline containing no first-choice defenders wasn't troubled once in a professional display by Hodgson's men.