ENGLAND can clinch their place at the European Championship finals in France next summer with victory over minnows San Marino in Serravelle on Saturday evening (KO 17:00 BST).
The Three Lions, already guaranteed a play-off spot in Group E, have a 100% winning record after six qualifiers and can guarantee one of the 32 spots at the tournament even before Tuesday’s clash with Switzerland at Wembley.
Captain Wayne Rooney, who scored the crucial goal in the 3-2 victory over Slovenia in June, can become the nation’s all-time leading scorer by scoring twice to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 international goals.
With England already holding a six-point lead over the second-placed Swiss, boss Roy Hodgson has targeted 10 wins out of 10 and his side are expected to maintain their run by sweeping aside the team ranked 192nd in Fifa’s current rankings.
The Three Lions will be hoping for a repeat of their last trip to the Stadio Olimpico di Seravalle in March 2013 which brought an 8-0 triumph – their biggest margin of victory since 1987 – during their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Hodgson’s men also eased to a lacklustre 5-0 home win in the Wembley return and racked up the same scoreline last October in their second Euro 2016 qualifier with the goals again shared out among several players.
Rooney, who has four goals in the three aforementioned meetings, will fancy his chances of making England history when his nation make the 17-hour flight on Friday and hope he can dispel his poor form for Manchester United in the early weeks of the season.
Swansea City midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, whose only senior cap came against San Marino in 2012, will also hope to get some game time after an impressive start to the Premier League campaign for the south Wales club.
Having netted 31 times in all competitions last term for Spurs, Harry Kane is still waiting to open this account this season.
During his barren spell, the PFA Young Player of the Year revealed he has sought advice from Rooney and ex-skipper Alan Shearer.
The 22-year-old striker said: “As a striker obviously I want to be scoring and San Marino is a good chance for us to get the three points most importantly and hopefully some goals as well.”
The only uncapped player in the 22-man pool is Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton while Tottenham midfielder Ryan Mason had to withdraw from the previous squad in the summer because of injury.
While Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 22, is back in the fold after shining in the early weeks of the Gunners’ indifferent campaign.
San Marino – the oldest independent country in Europe, situated on the Italian Peninsula – sit bottom of Group E and are still yet to score with 19 goals conceded but picked up their only point in a goalless draw at home to Estonia.
The only official victory of their 25-year existence came in April 2004 when their leading scorer and captain Andy Selva struck against Liechtenstein in a friendly.
But one of their 20 goals famously came after just eight seconds in a 7-1 defeat by England in a 1994 World Cup qualifier.
The South European part-timers are largely made up of teachers, painters and decorators and construction workers while goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini, an accountant by day, will have his work cut out in keeping England at bay.
Pierangelo Manzaroli’s team, who have competed in qualifying for every major tournament since 1990, are widely renowned as world football’s whipping boys and provided a tame punchbag for Germany, who inflicted their record 13-0 loss in a Euro 2008 qualifier.
England – currently 10th in Fifa’s rankings, below Wales for the first time – will be desperate for a successful international break which would constitute wrapping up their Euro 2016 place sooner rather than later.
And the Three Lions will know they will only be judged on how they can express their vast superiority and gulf in class over the lowly minnows on the scoresheet.
Meanwhile, San Marino, a tiny republic with a mere 30,000 population, face another exercise of damage limitation in which even winning a corner kick could be considered a small bonus as they go in search of their first competitive goal since 2008.
Roy Hodgson confirmed on Friday that Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, Everton defender John Stones and Swansea midfielder Jonjo Shelvey will all start against San Marino.
“All three players have started the season very well. If they weren’t going to get a start in a game where we are expected to win, then I don’t know when the next opportunity would have come around,” the England boss told his press conference.
Hodgson has no injury concerns with all 22 members of his squad available for selection.
Referee: Leontios Trattou (Cyprus)
Assistant referees: Michael Soteriou and Athinodoros Ioannou (Cyprus)
Fourth official: Charalambos Charalambous (Cyprus)
Additional assistant referees: Christos Nicolaides and Vasilis Dimitriou (Cyprus)