International football is back for the first time in 2021, and England return with a trio of riveting fixtures.
Gareth Southgate’s side kick off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a clash against San Marino on Thursday evening, and while it doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure out how this one will out for England, it’s always important to get a good performance under the belt to ensure a sprinting start.
There have been doubts over player availability for a number of nations with COVID-19 restrictions in each country affecting travel, but the Three Lions have still managed to pull together a decent enough squad for such a tense fixture.
Grab some snacks and dust off that waistcoat you bought in 2018, here’s 90min‘s preview of what promises to be a match of the century contender.
When is kick off? Thursday 25 March
What time is kick off? 19:45 (GMT)
Where is it played? Wembley Stadium
TV Channel? ITV 1, ITV Hub
Despite struggling for fitness over the last few weeks and missing out entirely in Manchester United’s FA Cup defeat to Leicester before the break, Marcus Rashford has joined up with the Three Lions squad and thus is in contention for Thursday’s fixture.
Midfielder Jude Bellingham was a doubt despite being included in the squad with travel restrictions in Germany complicating his joining up with the squad, but the 17-year-old has been cleared to travel and is available for selection also.
There are a number of newcomers in the squad who could earn full international honours for the first time. With Jordan Pickford out, Sam Johnstone has been called up, as has Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins. Older faces have returned too; Jesse Lingard, John Stones and Luke Shaw have all been selected.
As ever with these fixtures, the onus is always on ridiculing San Marino for their national side being made up of part-time footballers.
It’s always a commendable effort from the nation and its team, however, who have a population of little under 34,000 people. Southgate often selects more right-backs in his England squads than that.
23-year-old Filippo Berardi was San Marino’s last scorer at international level in November 2019, bagging their first home goal in six years in a 5-1 defeat to Kazakhstan. The winger currently plies his trade in the Italian third tier. 20-year-old Nicola Nanni is on the books with Serie A side Crotone and could also feature.
England: Henderson; James, Mings, Coady, Shaw; Phillips, Bellingham, Lingard; Saka, Watkins, Foden.
San Marino: Benedettini; Brolli, Grandoni, Rossi, Palazzi; Tomassini, Golinucci, Lunadei, Vitaioli; Berardi, Nanni.
England 4-0 Iceland – Nations League (18/11/20)
Belgium 2-0 England – Nations League (15/11/20)
England 0-1 Denmark – Nations League (14/10/20)
England 2-1 Belgium – Nations League (11/10/20)
Denmark 0-0 England – Nations League (8/9/20)
San Marino 0-0 Gibraltar – Nations League (14/11/20)
San Marino 0-3 Latvia – Friendly (11/11/20)
Liechtenstein 0-0 San Marino – Nations League (13/10/20)
Slovenia 4-0 San Marino – Friendly (7/10/20)
San Marino 0-2 Liechtenstein – Nations League (8/9/20)
Let’s give some credit to San Marino; it’s probably a shock to many casual viewers hearing that, actually, they’ve managed to eke out two draws from their last five fixtures.
By no means is anyone expecting an upset here, though. England have played the Sammarinese six times and won on all six occasions, but Southgate will no doubt drill his side into putting on a professional display.
Prediction: England 6-0 San Marino