LONDON: Wayne Rooney will have an opportunity to break Bobby Charlton’s 45-year-old England goal-scoring record when he lines up against San Marino in Saturday’s (Sunday in Manila) Euro 2016 qualifier in Serravalle.
The England captain, 29, equalled Gary Lineker’s tally of 48 goals with a late winner in a 3-2 success away to Slovenia in June, which left him one goal below Charlton’s mark of 49.
A brace at the tiny Stadio Olimpico will give him the record outright, while an England victory—which is widely expected—will see Roy Hodgson’s side qualify from Group E with three games to spare.
“Hopefully he can break the record on this trip,” said Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, who is a candidate to partner Rooney in attack.
“He is an incredible talent, a world-class player, and trains very hard to be where he is.
“It is great to be able to train with him, talk to him and learn from him. He is an all-round top player and top man.”
Both Kane and Rooney are yet to score in the Premier League this season, but although the Manchester United man is without a league goal since April, he claimed a classy hat-trick at Club Brugge in the Champions League play-off round last month.
With an aggregate score of 31-1 in their five previous meetings with San Marino, currently ranked 193rd in the world, victory for England is all but inevitable, and it will be enough to take them to France.
England could conceivably finish level on points with Slovenia and Switzerland even if they win, but their results against those two teams would give them the edge in a three-way head-to-head mini-league.
While the match promises little in the way of sporting intrigue, it will give Hodgson an opportunity to look at some of the players on the fringes of his team as his side look to preserve their 100 percent record.
Kieran Gibbs and Luke Shaw are vying to replace the injured Leighton Baines at left-back, while a new midfield configuration will need to be found in the absence of Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson.
One player hoping for a chance to shine is Jonjo Shelvey, who has been brought back into the fold after some strong early-season displays for Swansea City.
It is three years since he won his only cap to date, which also came against San Marino, and the former Liverpool midfielder is eager to seize the opportunity.
“It seems every time I get called up we are playing San Marino,” he joked this week.
“But I just want to get a start, hopefully I can, and then it is down to me to cement a place in this squad.”
In attack, with Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck—England’s top scorer in qualifying— sidelined, Arsenal’s Theo Walcott may be offered an opportunity to play in his preferred central role.
Having lost 8-0 on England’s last visit, in March 2013, San Marino’s main objective will be keeping the score respectable.
But England fans of a certain age will remember all too well the uncomfortable 20 minutes that elapsed after Davide Gualteri opened the scoring after only 8.3 seconds in a World Cup qualifier between the teams in Bologna in November 1993—a tournament record that still stands.
After equalising through Paul Ince in the 21st minute, England eventually won 7-1, but it was not enough to secure them a place at the World Cup and remains an unpleasant memory.
San Marino will also draw hope from the fact they held Estonia to a 0-0 draw in their last home game in November, which was the first time they had avoided defeat in 60 home European Championship qualifiers.
England then host Switzerland on Tuesday, while San Marino visit Lithuania.