London: Having launched their 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign with an impressive win in Switzerland, England face a thankless task on Thursday when perennial whipping boys San Marino visit Wembley Stadium.
With San Marino currently 208th and last in the Fifa world ranking, having scored only one goal in their last 29 competitive fixtures, even a handsome victory will not earn Roy Hodgson’s side any credit.
England won 5-0 and 8-0 when they met San Marino in qualifying for this year’s World Cup, after which the microstate in Italy finished with a goal difference of -53 for the second qualifying tournament in succession.
England now have control of Group E after winning 2-0 in Basel last month, but midfielder James Milner believes it would be dangerous to slacken off in Thursday’s game.
“We can’t let our standards drop,” the in-form Manchester City man told a press conference at England’s St George’s Park training base.
“Everyone knows this is a game we should win and that’s not being disrespectful. But when teams come and sit, it’s not easy to break them down.
“The biggest thing is not letting standards drop, even against lesser opposition. We want to keep improving.”
One man itching to get onto the pitch against San Marino will be England captain Wayne Rooney, who is currently serving a three-match suspension with Manchester United.
With 41 international goals, the 28-year-old needs four more to overtake Jimmy Greaves as England’s third-highest goalscorer and he should have plenty of opportunities to add to his tally against San Marino.
The game also represents a useful opportunity for England to hone their tactics against defensive teams.
Hodgson’s side visit Estonia on Sunday and will also come up against Lithuania and Slovenia in Group E — none of whom will be expected to come out and attack them.
“We’ve been working on how we want to play in training, preparing for the game exactly as normal and allowing ourselves to be professional and put in a good performance and get the three points,” said midfielder Adam Lallana.
“I’m sure players will want to fill their boots and get goals. That’s the same in any game. If you’re a striker you want to get on the scoresheet and the same for midfielders, [who] will be looking for assists as well.”
With Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker and John Stones all unavailable due to injury, Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne will hope to win his first cap at right-back.
Aston Villa midfielder Fabian Delph missed training on Tuesday due to a knock, but he is expected to be fit to play.
San Marino created a sensation against England in 1993, when they scored after just eight seconds of a World Cup qualifying match, only to go on to lose 7-1.
Davide Gualteri’s strike is the only goal they have scored in four meetings with England, who have found the net 26 times against them at an average of 6.5 goals per game.
But San Marino only lost 2-0 to Lithuania in their opening Euro 2016 qualifier, and captain Andy Selva has urged his teammates to build on the improvements they showed in the second half of that game.
“We were braver and tried to press them high up the pitch, so we saw a completely different game,” said the 38-year-old forward. “We have to play as we did in the second half in the future.”