England moved another step closer to World Cup qualification as Gareth Southgate marked five years in the dugout with a comfortable victory against Andorra.
After coronavirus vaccination rates within the squad dominated the build-up, attention turned to matters on the field as the Three Lions’ unbeaten road to Qatar continued deep in the Pyrenees.
Ben Chilwell and Bukayo Saka put England in cruise control at the break against the side ranked 156th in the world, with Tammy Abraham, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Grealish wrapping up a 5-0 triumph.
Just 2,285 were in attendance at the Estadi Nacional, where the hosts worked feverishly overnight to repair the damage caused by the spectacular touchline fire around the TV gantry area on the eve of the game.
Saturday’s Group I match saw Ukraine’s Kateryna Monzul become the first women to referee a senior England men’s match – a historic moment in what was always going to be a Pyrenees stroll.
Phil Foden was the architect of both first-half goals, providing the killer ball for Chilwell’s first international goal – awarded after the VAR overruled an initial offside call – and then Saka’s thumping strike.
Abraham, making his first international start in four years, turned home a Jadon Sancho cross in the second half, with Ward-Prowse taking a late penalty off him and striking home after his initial effort was saved.
Grealish won the spot-kick and added late gloss in Andorra la Vella when firing home his first international goal.
Gareth Southgate believes it is “fabulously exciting” to see what Foden can do in an England shirt after his starring role.
Southgate was left enthused at the ability of the 21-year-old, saying: “It is difficult (to predict his best position) because frankly he is one of those players who is effective anywhere across that front line.
“If you play him seven, 11, 10, eight. A sort of traditional 4-3-3 midfield with a six, eight, 10, if he was the 10 within that but with the capability to drop lower and build the play at times like he did tonight.
“Part of that is just as he gets stronger as well and part of that will be the balance of the type of player who plays as the other eight and their qualities.
“Look, it’s fabulously exciting isn’t it? When you are trying to break down a defence as we had tonight, and you’ve got a player who can see the passes he sees and can execute them in the way that he did.
“The quality we know. For us it’s really interesting, the possibilities with him in terms of his positioning moving forward."
The victory keeps England well on course for ensuring qualification to the World Cup in Qatar next winter, with Southgate’s side having now won six of their seven Group I games to date.
Andorra head coach Koldo Alvarez singled out Foden for praise but felt his own side struggled to reach their best levels.
“I think both things have been of influence here, we have been suffering a lot at the back the whole match,” he replied when asked if England shone because of their own performance or the display of the hosts.
“But of course if you have players of the quality of Foden with those kinds of passes, then it is very difficult for us."