England will be looking to kickstart their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign in style when they host minnows, San Marino, this midweek.

The qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup 2022 got underway this week. And England, who were one of the semi-finalists in the 2018 edition of the tournament, will be aiming to kick things off with a win when they take on San Marino at the Wembley Stadium on Thursday in a Group I encounter.

The Three Lions, led by Gareth Southgate, enjoyed a strong qualifying campaign for the UEFA Euro 2020, going unbeaten in their eight games. However, a middling UEFA Nations League campaign saw them finish third in Group A2, having lost two of their last four games, although they did beat Iceland 4-0 in their most recent fixture.

San Marino, meanwhile, lost all of their 10 UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier matches and failed to win any of their four games in the Nations League, where they remain rooted to the bottom of D2 and second-lowest in the overall ranking. Their latest game ended in a goalless draw against fellow minnows Gibraltar last November.

Ahead of this David vs Goliath encounter set to come our way from the Wembley Stadium on Thursday night, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

England

Gareth Southgate has made some bold selection choices for the upcoming set of fixtures as Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold has been axed while there have been first-time call-ups for Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins and West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, the latter due to the injury-enforced absence of Jordan Pickford.

Elsewhere, the big news is the return of Manchester United duo Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard into the national team fold but the likes of Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Harvey Barnes are among those who miss out due to injuries. Marcus Rashford is also a major doubt while Bukayo Saka has been ruled out as well.

Southgate has preferred to set his team up in a variant of a 3-4-3 formation and that is likely to be the case on Thursday as well, with the possibility of a sole striker playing in front of two narrow attacking midfielders. There will also be the case of the manager holding back his big guns and handing some of his fringe players a chance against the minnows.

In goal, Dean Henderson, who has had a solid run of games at Manchester United of late, could be in for a start. He is likely to be shielded by the three-man backline of Kyle Walker, Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings with the likes of John Stones and Harry Maguire saved for the next games. Reece James and the returning Luke Shaw ought to be the two wing-backs.

In midfield, Leeds United star Kalvin Phillips could get a go ahead of Declan Rice while Jude Bellingham should get a chance to play as the ball-carrier for the Three Lions. Jesse Lingard and Phil Foden ought to be the two attacking midfielders with Dominic Calvert-Lewin leading the line. Expect Watkins to make his debut at some point in the game.

Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Henderson; Walker, Coady, Mings; James, Bellingham, Phillips, Shaw; Foden, Lingard; Calvert-Lewin

San Marino

San Marino will be without their captain Davide Simoncini, who is suspended after being sent off in their last game against Gibraltar in 2020 and has not been called up to the squad for the upcoming set of fixtures. Filippo Fabbri is a new face in the squad while the likes of Matteo Vitaioli, Fabio Tomassini, Alessandro Golinucci are also absent.

Head coach Franco Varrella set his team up in a 4-4-2 formation against Gibraltar last time out. but could sacrifice a forward in order to add more bodies in midfield against England. In goal, Elia Benedittini should get the nod with the Cesena shot-stopper set to be shielded by the backline of Manuel Battistini, Cristian Brolli, Dante Rossi and Mirko Palazzi.

Enrico Golinucci and Lorenzo Lunadei ought to be the two central midfielders who will look to provide additional screening to the backline while Mattia Giardi could slot in as the No. 10. although he will likely spend most of the game behind the ball, trying to support the two deeper midfielders.

Filippo Berardi, who is one among only two players to have scored a goal for San Marino in the current squad, should get the nod on the right flank while Adolfo Hirsch slots in on the left, leaving Nicola Nanni to lead the attack.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Benedittini; Battistini, Brolli, Rossi, Palazzi; Golinucci, Lunadei; Berardi, Giardi, Hirsch; Nanni

Key Stats

  • This will be the seventh meeting between England and San Marino across all competitions. The Three Lions have won each of the six previous matches, scoring 37 goals while letting in just one. Their most recent encounter took place in 2015 with England winning 6-0.
  • In 142 matches in European Championship/World Cup qualifiers, San Marino are yet to register a single victory (D3 L139). In fact, they have lost each of their last 43  World Cup qualifying matches since a 1-1 draw vs Latvia in 2001.
  • England have won their last 18 home matches in European Championship/World Cup qualifying – a run dating back to 2012. The Three Lions haven’t lost a home qualifier game since 2007.
  • San Marino managed to draw two of their last four matches in 2020, holding Liechtenstein and Gibraltar to goalless stalemates in the UEFA Nations League.
  • This will be Gareth Southgate’s 50th game as England manager. He has won 29 of his 49 games so far (D10 L10).

Player to Watch

Luke Shaw

After a long wait, Manchester United star Luke Shaw has returned to the England national team setup. The left-back last played for the Three Lions in September 2018 but has been pretty much out of the picture ever since due to the lack of form and fitness.

However, the former Southampton man has turned things around in style this season, establishing himself as one of the best in his position in the league, which has also opened the doors for his return to the national team.

Shaw’s driving runs on the left flank have been a big feature of Manchester United’s attacking play and that is something that Gareth Southgate will also demand from the defender, with his forward forays from the left wing-back slot likely to be a key outlet for England.

Prediction

England 5-0 San Marino

Even though Gareth Southgate is unlikely to start with his strongest lineup on Thursday there is just no match between the two teams. On one side, there’s England, filled with players who constantly compete at the highest level week in week out. San Marino meanwhile consists of a large number of part-timers and has just two players in the squad who have scored international goals.

It should be a walk in the park for England at Wembley with the only question being as to how many they will put past the minnows. An easy win for the Three Lions to kickstart their World Cup qualifying journey.

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