For England, the frustration was apparent in the sight of Harry Kane, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish all primed to come on. An hour had gone and the Euro 2020 finalists had a solitary goal against the team ranked 156th in the world.
The substitutes duly secured the expected rout, even if took longer than expected to crush Andorra. Grealish found Mount, who was fouled in the box. Kane converted the resulting penalty for his 40th England goal, drawing him level with Michael Owen. Then Jesse Lingard doubled his tally before crossing for Bukayo Saka to mark his 20th birthday with a goal.
It amounted to a tale of two birthday boys. Patrick Bamford’s England debut came on the day he turned 28 but it was not quite the celebration he must have wanted. He was hauled off for Kane, having shown fine movement but skied his only chance against minnows and, with Marcus Rashford, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ollie Watkins all to return, he may wonder when such an opportunity will present itself again.
Bamford was chosen as Gareth Southgate rested his strongest side. Of the understudies, only Saka, Lingard and Jude Bellingham really enhanced their reputations. Southgate’s experiment of fielding Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield was abandoned after 45 minutes but England got a fifth win out of five in qualifying.
For Andorra, it was a predictable damage-limitation exercise. They defended in numbers and with organisation, camping men around the box in a 5-4-1 formation. They are often obdurate opponents and resisted well until Southgate sent for the cavalry.
It was the first time since 1982 that England had made 11 changes, even if it suggested Southgate will make another 11 in Poland. Maybe that unfamiliarity was a reason for a slow start but it allowed Andorra to settle into their rearguard action.
Saka’s afternoon began and ended well. He was greeted with a huge cheer by the Wembley crowd. It amounted to sympathy for both the missed penalty against Italy and the racist abuse he subsequently received. A giant banner celebrated Saka, Jadon Sancho and Rashford, the others found wanting in the shootout but then subjected to some disgraceful treatment.
The Arsenal winger nearly scored early on, meeting Bellingham’s cutback with a low shot that Txus Rubio did wonderfully well to deflect wide. He almost set Bamford up for a goal, too, with a curling pass that the Leeds striker just could not reach. He eventually headed in a Lingard cross for his second international goal.
And Lingard was ubiquitous. He has only had four minutes’ Premier League football this season but he has long been a Southgate favourite. Despite his bit-part role at Old Trafford, he was sharp and lively: this was a continuation of his spring form for West Ham.
He hooked in a first international goal since 2018 after Saka’s cross was only half-cleared. Lingard had another goal disallowed for offside but did double his tally from the edge of the box, his shot earning Saka an assist, though Grealish, whose decoy run created Lingard space, also played a part.
The offside chance Kane volleyed wastefully against the post was not the only poor finish: while Conor Coady deserved credit for an overhead kick that cleared the bar, other efforts with too much elevation showed profligacy. Reece James struck the bar with a ferocious shot from long range, but only after he had moved into midfield.
He had began at right-back, but as one of three right-backs, with Kieran Trippier deployed on the left and Alexander-Arnold in a more advanced role. He struggled to exert an influence in an unfamiliar position, while Bellingham, whose lovely dragback led to Lingard’s opener, was brighter alongside him in midfield. But Saka’s goal, which stemmed from Alexander-Arnold’s speed of thought, was a reminder of one of his greatest moments in a Liverpool shirt. Andorra were caught out by a quickly-taken corner, just as Barcelona were when Divock Origi struck in 2019.