The key talking points as England take on San Marino

Mark Mann-Bryans, PA
·4-min read

England’s journey to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar starts on Thursday night as they begin their qualification campaign at home to minnows San Marino.

The visitors have conceded over six goals on average in their previous six meetings with the Three Lions.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the key talking points ahead of England’s opening Group I qualifier.

England to continue taking the knee?

England's players took the knee before kick-off during the last round of international matches.
England’s players took the knee before kick-off during the last round of international matches (Nick Potts/PA)

Introduced as a way to draw attention to the fight against racism within football, some players and teams have recently opted against taking the knee ahead of kick-off.

England did take the knee earlier in the season and manager Gareth Southgate revealed after talks with his key players on Tuesday evening that there are still conversations as to whether they will do so during the current international break.

“I’ve spoken with the leadership group about this and I’ve asked them to talk with the other players because I think it is a good process for them to hear each other’s views first,” Southgate said.

“The one thing we are very clear on is that we will be unified on whatever we do and if there is any doubt I think we would take the knee.”

Southgate to raise his bat for a half-century

Gareth Southgate will take charge of his 50th game as England manager on Thursday night.
Gareth Southgate will take charge of his 50th game as England manager on Thursday night (Steve Paston/PA)

The game will also be Southgate’s 50th as England manager, having first taken the reins on a temporary basis following the sacking of Sam Allardyce in 2016.

Only Sven-Goran Eriksson (67) and Roy Hodgson (56) have overseen more England matches since Bobby Robson’s stint ended in 1990 and Southgate will become the first man to get 50 caps as a player and go on to reach the landmark as manager.

Having reached the World Cup semi-finals in Russia, Southgate will be hopeful of still being at the helm when the 2022 tournament kicks off next winter.

Road to Qatar starts against the world’s worst

Wayne Rooney was among the goals as England beat San Marino 6-0 in their last meeting.
Wayne Rooney was among the goals as England beat San Marino 6-0 in their last meeting (Mike Egerton/PA)

San Marino are ranked 210th and last in the FIFA rankings – just below the likes of Aruba, Eritrea and the British Virgin Islands.

Since making their competitive debut in the Euro 92 qualifiers, San Marino have competed in every qualification campaign for both the World Cup and European Championship – but are yet to win a match.

A country with a population which would not fill Leeds’ Elland Road stadium, San Marino have a friendly victory over Liechtenstein as their only ever recorded win and England will be expecting to start their 2022 campaign with a comfortable triumph.

Rotation, rotation, rotation?

Players such as Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse could make rare starts against San Marino.
Players such as Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse could make rare starts against San Marino (Carl Recine/PA)

England play three games in six days, with a trip to Albania and the visit of Poland following the San Marino clash.

With the truncated season already leading to a number of players suffering injuries and burn-out, Southgate will be keen to keep his squad fresh – especially with the rearranged European Championship finals on the horizon.

Players usually on the periphery of the line-up may be hopeful of a rare start, with the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Jude Bellingham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin amongst those who could be named in Southgate’s XI.

The gloves are off in goalkeeper fight

Dean Henderson will be looking to add to his one England cap during the current round of international fixtures.
Dean Henderson will be looking to add to his one England cap during the current round of international fixtures (Nick Potts/PA)

There has been plenty of speculation over the past few international breaks that Jordan Pickford’s time as England’s first-choice goalkeeper could be coming to an end.

But Southgate has always kept faith in the man who was crucial in helping his side reach the last four in the 2018 World Cup.

However, the Everton keeper is injured and will miss the next three games, with Nick Pope of Burnley and Manchester United’s Dean Henderson now hoping for the chance to stake their claim – while Sam Johnstone will be keen to get some minutes following his first call-up after a fine season at West Brom.