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Jack Grealish jinks through to seal England’s stroll past Andorra | World Cup 2022 qualifiers

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Perhaps, the fire that laid waste to the TV gantry on Friday at this quirky stadium was a portent. When the action started, it was Phil Foden who channelled its fury, producing a scorching performance that was simply too much for Andorra.

The England midfielder called the tune from start to finish, driving the team with his easy balance and range of passing, with the scoop for Bukayo Saka’s goal one of his many highlights.

It was a good night all round for England on the much-discussed synthetic carpet here, with Jadon Sancho impressing, particularly in the first-half, when he set up Ben Chilwell’s first international goal. He would later serve up another assist for Tammy Abraham to make it 3-0.

Gareth Southgate’s demand for slickness and bravery was heeded as England added a late gloss to the scoreline which better reflected the gulf between the teams. It was attack versus defence throughout; men against boys.

Jack Grealish, who entered as a substitute, won a penalty that James Ward-Prowse converted at the second attempt – his initial kick having been beaten away by Josep Gómes. And it was Grealish who ran through towards the end, showing his strength to hold off his defender, before arrowing a low shot home. Job done. With a flourish.

England had never played in Andorra before and it is fair to say that they have rarely played in a venue like this. One side of the complex was overlooked entirely by blocks of apartments – whose balconies offered a kind of executive box experience – and, if you looked hard enough into the night behind them, it was just about possible to make out the silhouette of the Pyrenees.

Officially there were 900 England fans present but it looked like there were more in the 2,285 crowd – which was 70% of capacity. They were massed not only behind one of the goals but dotted around the rest of the ground.

What they wanted to see was England playing with adventure and Southgate picked a line-up to do so. He had talked on Friday about needing his No10s – in other words, his more technical forwards – rather than his No8s to unpick Andorra’s defensive structure and so in from the start were Jesse Lingard, Foden, Saka and Sancho.

Southgate felt that he could do without a specialist defensive midfielder; he started Ward-Prowse in front of the back four and it was Lingard and Foden either side of him, probing, looking for the seams of space, with the latter, in particular, open to quick switches with pinged diagonals.

Tammy Abraham stretches to score England’s third goal from close range against Andorra.
Tammy Abraham stretches to score England’s third goal from close range against Andorra. Photograph: Javier García/Shutterstock

Foden to Sancho on the left wing had been a feature of the opening exchanges, as Andorra drew the lines for the siege, and it was this combination that created the breakthrough. This time, Sancho had darted into the area for the ball and it was a lovely piece of control and awareness from him. He checked back to tee up Ben Chilwell, who lashed home from close to the penalty spot.

The goal was initially ruled out for offside but VAR stepped in to advise Kateryna Monzul – who became the first woman to referee a senior men’s England game – to overrule. After a lengthy wait, she did so and Chilwell could celebrate. It was a case of third time lucky for Chilwell, who had twice gone close previously following Foden passes; he might have done better with the second chance. It was a goal that was loaded with personal significance, given how Chilwell had barely featured at Euro 2020 and has struggled for minutes at Chelsea in the early season. The left-back was a late call-up by Southgate, having been omitted in September.

It was a strange first half. The feel was afterwork-on-the-astro; one team palpably better, the other looking forward to the beer afterwards. England’s dominance of possession was absolute, with Foden at the heart of most of the best stuff. It was difficult to recall Andorra stringing three passes together and the only question concerned what England could create.

Abraham worked the goalkeeper, Gómes, and John Stones headed high after a Ward-Prowse free-kick when he should have scored. Foden created the second with a lovely ball up the inside right channel for Saka, who finished with a vicious drive, and the biggest threat to England was Andorra’s desire to push the limit of what was acceptable in tackles.

There was an undercurrent of needle, which kept Monzul busy, and nobody in England colours was happy when Jesús Rubio left something on Sancho, needlessly, in first-half stoppage-time. Southgate looked incensed and Sancho had to be held back as he departed for the interval, gesturing to Rubio as if to indicate that he would like to continue the argument in the tunnel.

Midway through the second-half, Marc Rebés cleaned out Conor Coady with an elbow, which might have been a red card but was surely a second yellow for the midfielder. Monzul let him off.

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Foden is a delight when he is on song and this was his night. He enjoyed himself more and more as it unfolded, demanding the ball, running with it, slipping effortlessly past red shirts and wowing with his distribution.

Sancho was good, too, which was needed. When Southgate said that the winger did not deserve to be picked on form, it had felt like a warning. Sancho had to perform. He did. It was his cross from which Abraham flicked wide on 57 minutes and another one from him two minutes later that the centre-forward did convert.

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The Groucho

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