Boring England qualify as Rooney scores his 49th goal
Securing qualification and Rooney's 49th England goal can't hide dull mediocrity
SAN MARINO 0
(Wayne Rooney 13-pen, Christian Brolli 30-og, Ross Barkley 46, Theo Walcott 68, 78, Harry Kane 77)
Watching England seems not a privilege, but a punishment.
Collectively, the Three Lions are the short straw of football entertainment.
At times, it's difficult to decide which is the bigger irritant; the dire fare served up to defeat a team of amateurs or the hype that follows Roy Hodgson's men everywhere.
England boast the dullness to strip paint from dressing room walls.
Here we are, more than a year on from the Brazilian debacle, with almost nothing to get excited about.
So those straws get clutched with weary predictability.
Wayne Rooney scored a penalty against San Marino's barmen and bank clerks yesterday morning (Singapore time) to automatically elevate the striker to greatness, equalling Sir Bobby Charlton with 49 goals, despite the fact that many of Charlton's goals came in tournament finals.
But it wasn't so much the record as it was the circumstances.
Rooney's goal came from a generous penalty that should not have been awarded.
England's second was a fortuitous own goal that came about largely because Rooney lacked the spring of youth to reach the cross.
If that sounds unnecessarily callous, then it really isn't the case.
Rooney deserves the plaudits and the snowballing hype that will engulf him if he hits No. 50 against Switzerland on Wednesday morning.
The fact that the slowing striker still leads the line says less about his admirable commitment than it does England's eternal struggle to adapt and improve in an evolving landscape.
One of world football's curious quirks remains England's ability to be boring. They rarely swing, even when they're winning.
It's easier to focus on Rooney's record and England's easy Euro 2016 qualification in a group filled mostly with bowling pins like San Marino, currently ranked 193rd in the world, than the lack of progress under Hodgson.
England's attack was led by a journeyman winger (Jamie Vardy), a declining striker (Rooney) and an electrifying, but erratic speedster yet to convince his club manager of a place in the starting line-up (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain).
In midfield, James Milner was the reliable artisan worthy of respect, but not always automatic selection when he was at Manchester City.
In defence, Luke Shaw, Nathaniel Clyne and John Stones hint at their international potential, with Stones the most accomplished defender in the squad when it comes to carrying the ball forward.
But the ghosts of Ashley Cole, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand loom large over England's fledgling defence.
In the end, the so-called Golden Generation mostly disappointed, but how many would get dropped in favour of the current crop?
There's a viable case to be made that not one in the starting line-up against San Marino - or even the featured substitutes - would relegate any of England's finest in the mid-2000s to the bench.
In 2004, Rooney was the first among equals. In 2015, the 29-year-old arguably shouldn't be tasked with the thankless role up front.
But Harry Kane is still shaking off the one-season wonder syndrome. Currently, there is no one else better.
That's been England's report card since the Golden Generation faded away: "Could do better, but then, there's no one else better."
The report card will write itself until Euro 2016, when it will inevitably read: "Couldn't do any better, because the other major opponents were all better."
England's tedious showing on a bumpy pitch against international football's punch-line - remember, San Marino have scored just 17 goals in the last 25 years - underlined the shortcomings that stifle long-term progress.
Hodgson's 4-2-3-1 selection of honest toilers, bench-warmers and bright upstarts was another reminder of the English Premier League's myopic selfishness, as it slowly starves the national team of talent.
For Oxlade-Chamberlain, Milner and Theo Walcott, and even Raheem Sterling, England offer less competition in their positions than their own clubs.
And they are lumbered with a manager who's as old-school English as strawberries and cream at Wimbledon.
Compared to Germany's Joachim Loew and France's Didier Deschamps, Hodgson plods along like a VCR salesman in an era of digital downloads.
His England sides do much the same.
Once the hyperbole is stripped away, the Three Lions are revealed to be a functional side in obvious decline, rather like Germany in the early 2000s, paying for their domestic league's inability to feed the conveyor belt of talent.
But German football instigated a revolution. England can't even do evolution.
What they can do, however, is bore both their opponents and their audience into submission with a brand of ponderous football that will not hold up at Euro 2016.
It's the same old story. Unlike Rooney's goal-scoring feats, it's a broken record.
"What it could do is give me the opportunity to experiment because we did not get that ahead of the World Cup when we had to win our last two qualifiers to get to Brazil."
— England manager Roy Hodgson on securing qualification to the Euro 2016 Finals with three games to spare
"It’ll definitely be a big achievement if we can go far. I am sure that we can. The manager has got that in our system, that he believes in us. The belief is there, the confidence is there, so why not?"
— England forward Theo Walcott
- Estonia 1 Lithuania 0
- Switzerland 3 Slovenia 2
- England v Switzerland
- Lithuania v San Marino
- Slovenia v Estonia