England thrash Andorra as Wembley fans behave themselves eight weeks on from Euro 2020 final shame
A much-changed Three Lions side claimed a 4-0 victory as their perfect start to World Cup 2022 qualification continued
Goals from Lingard (2), Kane (pen) and Saka sealed a 4-0 win for England (Photo: Getty)
WEMBLEY — Fifty-six days later and Gareth Southgate probably relished the chance to enjoy the sunshine with the pressure off and an opportunity to experiment.
It was a very different England starting XI to the one that lost the Euro 2020 final on penalties: entirely changed, in fact, from three days previously when, somewhat lost in the ugly racism that stole the headlines and news bulletins, England produced a stunning victory against a Hungary side who almost beat France and Germany in the summer.
Perhaps the most welcome sight for the 67,000 England supporters at Wembley was reaching their allotted seat and finding it not taken by a sweat-soaked idiot still catching their breath after running away from hapless stewards.
The last time England were here, thousands of ticketless fans stormed Wembley to watch the final, booed Italy’s national anthem, trashed London and stuck lit flares in places of the body that are really not recommended.
Sunday afternoon, in contrast, had a friendly, family atmosphere. They cheered loudly as both sets of teams took the knee. They respected the Andorran national anthem. They enjoyed a football game without fearing for their safety. It was a welcome change.
One of Southgate’s great strengths as England manager is the ability to identify young English talent and smooth their pathway into the squad. But he has been afforded scant time to do that in recent months of tense tournament knockout ties and that tricky trip to Hungary.
A World Cup qualifier against Andorra, however, the 156th best team in the world, afforded room to manoeuvre and swapping his entire eleven – leaving £522million worth of talent on the bench – gave England’s manager the chance to scrutinise others.
There has emerged an obvious divide between those in England’s B team who are clearly going to remain backup unless injury intervenes – Jordan Henderson, centre-backs Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings, striker Patrick Bamford – and those who could well work their way into Southgate’s plans before Qatar 2022.
Jude Bellingham probably tops that list – and what a talent. Within minutes he had brought down an awkward high ball on the left flank, tamed it with a touch, then surrounded by three Andorrans in a tight spot weaved between two and escaped the third with a nutmeg. How much longer will Southgate be able to resist starting this 18-year-old blessed with extraordinary natural technique and reading of the game in his first team?
It’s a delicate one: to untether a teenager capable of becoming England’s answer to Xavi or Andres Iniesta would involve breaking up the settled and effective central midfield partnership of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips.
Bellingham’s ability to work the ball in tight spaces was illustrated again in the 16th minute when he found a yard of space with a clever quick touch and cut back for Bukayo Saka, whose shot beat Hungary goalkeeper Josep Gomes but was deflected wide by a defender.
Then there was Bellingham’s crucial work in the build-up to the first goal. He slipped around an opponent with a slick drag-back before passing to Jesse Lingard, who exchanged passes with Saka then bobbled the ball into the bottom right corner.
England’s right-back is a problem Einstein would struggle to solve at the moment and Reece James continued to pose questions for England’s manager. Kyle Walker, first-choice at Euro 2020, should have been out of the reckoning by now but appears, somehow, to be getting better and faster in his 30s.
James, nonetheless, has won the favour of Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel, and if that remains the case the 21-year-old will be playing regularly in a side challenging for trophies this season.
Southgate is convinced James possesses a better blend of defence and attack than Trent Alexander-Arnold, and though the former was not tested going back towards his own goal he did strike the crossbar with a deliciously curled long-range effort early in the second half.
The biggest experiment of the evening was trying Alexander-Arnold in the midfield three, where he looked uncertain. It took until the 37th minute to see one of his trademark 40-yard passes, although it almost produced a goal. Bellingham plucked the ball out of the air, before cutting back inside and shooting narrowly wide. If Bellingham keeps controlling balls like that officials might start checking he hasn’t covered his boots in glue.
It all felt a little unfair when Southgate brought Harry Kane, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish on just after the hour and all three combined for England’s second – Grealish’s clever pass to Mount before he won the penalty, Kane converting it.
Lingard scored a third, then it was Alexander-Arnold’s quick corner that enabled Lingard to cross for Saka to head in the fourth. It all left Southgate with plenty to think about, knowing whatever he chooses will be wrong