Ollie Watkins was in dreamland after coming off the bench to score on his England debut in a 5-0 World Cup qualifying defeat of San Marino at Wembley.

Watkins completed the scoring as the Three Lions started their quest to win Group I and seal automatic qualification for the 2022 tournament in Qatar with a victory that should have been more emphatic.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored twice after James Ward-Prowse put England in front with his first senior international goal and Raheem Sterling - named as captain with Harry Kane on the bench - was also on target.

Watkins came on to replace Calvert-Lewin after 63 minutes and the Aston Villa striker grasped his chance, firing home from just inside the penalty area seven minutes from time.

The 25-year-old's goal came from his only shot, although the forward also created a chance, and he savoured such a special moment on his international bow.

Asked about his debut goal, Watkins told ITV Sport: "Unbelievable, what I have dreamt about. All day in the hotel I was just thinking that I hope to get a chance to come on, enjoy it and get the opportunity to score. I'm speechless to be honest.

"It's been a good journey. I just feel honoured that I can come out here and play for my country with these players and score on my debut. Over the moon. I just wanted to get on pitch for a start. I have and can't believe it.

"I'm going to take each game as it comes, focus on my club form, play consistently for Aston Villa, score for them, help the team push up the table and hopefully get into Europe and take it from there."

Calvert-Lewin expressed his delight for fellow frontman Watkins.

The Everton striker said: "He's been really sharp, he’s a nice lad, it’s the first time I've come across him. I know what it feels like, not too long ago, to step into the squad and the feeling he’ll have now, scoring on his debut is something that he'll always have dreamed of.

"He came in a little bit late, we all gave him a bit of a clap and he'll have a big smile on his face. I'm very happy for him."

The Three Lions had 32 shots - 15 on target - in Gareth Southgate's 50th match in charge against a side propping up with FIFA rankings, but Calvert-Lewin was not impressed to be asked if they should have been more clinical.

He said: "You're [the media] never happy, are you? We scored five, maybe it could have been more. I could have scored more, we had a couple more chances to be more clinical, but it's still the three points at the end of the day."

England had nine 'big chances', from which they would be expected to score, and missed seven of them.

Calvert-Lewin was guilty of two misses, although his two goals also each came from such opportunities, while Jesse Lingard (twice), Sterling, John Stones and Jude Bellingham failed to convert, too.

An Alvaro Morata strike was not enough for victory as Spain began their World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw against Greece in Granada on Thursday 

Morata's stylish volley put Spain ahead in the first half of a Group B clash they dominated with 79.4 per cent of the possession before the break.

But Greece levelled when Anastasios Bakasetas converted from the penalty spot four minutes before the hour mark after Inigo Martínez fouled Giorgos Masouras inside the area.

And although Luis Enrique's side enjoyed the bulk of the chances in the remainder of the game, they were unable to find a winner in an underwhelming start to the campaign.

After a sluggish start, La Roja sparked into life when Dani Olmo rattled the crossbar with a long-range curling effort and, moments later, they were ahead.

Koke showed his guile to cleverly dink the ball over the Greek defence to Morata, who controlled on his chest before crisply striking a fine volley beyond Odisseas Vlachodimos.

Morata went close again early in the second half when his shot hit the side-netting, but Greece soon equalised.

Martinez caught Masouras after a sliding clearance and Bakasetas smashed the resulting spot-kick high down the middle of the goal.

Spain rallied and Morata got on the end of a Ferran Torres cross but was unable to make his header count, nodding straight into the ground, before Jose Gaya teased a low dangerous cross into the box which Mikel Oyarzabal could not convert.

The hosts continued to pile on the pressure late on but were unable to find a way past the resolute visiting defence, their joy evident at the final whistle.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin struck twice and Ollie Watkins scored a debut goal as England started their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 5-0 thrashing of San Marino at Wembley.

Gareth Southgate was able to celebrate his 50th match as manager of his country with a Group I victory which should have been much more emphatic on Thursday.

James Ward-Prowse opened the scoring with his first senior international goal before Calvert-Lewin and Raheem Sterling got in on the act in a first half that saw England waste a host of clear-cut chances.

Calvert-Lewin doubled his tally early in the second half and substitute Watkins was on target on his Three Lions bow on another tough night for a San Marino team sitting at the bottom of the FIFA rankings, with much bigger tests to come for England on the road to Qatar 2022.

San Marino were chasing shadows from the start, but Calvert-Lewin somehow failed to convert Reece James' cross and Sterling – named as captain with Harry Kane on the bench – was off target with two close-range headers.

It was only a matter of time before England took the lead and Ward-Prowse was the man to put them in front, sweeping home Ben Chilwell's cutback with his left foot 14 minutes in.

Calvert-Lewin doubled their advantage by nodding in James' inviting cross and Chilwell's rasping drive was superbly tipped over by Elia Benedettini before Sterling punished San Marino for trying to play out from the back, cutting inside before finding the net with a deflected right-foot finish.

England were relentless, with Mason Mount pulling the strings, and the recalled Jesse Lingard scuffed wastefully wide from close range before he was denied by a brilliant save from Benedettini late in the first half.

Southgate made four changes at the break, with Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden among the quartet to come on and Sterling handing the armband to Conor Coady.

It was all too easy for England as Calvert-Lewin tapped in the lively Lingard's cross in the 53rd minute, but there was to be no hat-trick for the Everton striker as he was replaced by Watkins.

Ward-Prowse came close to a second when Benedettini produced another fine save to keep out the midfielder's whipped free-kick and Watkins volleyed into the turf and over the crossbar moments later.

Watkins was not to be denied seven minutes from time, though, controlling the ball just inside the area and drilling home with his right foot.

Germany made a comfortable start to their World Cup qualifying campaign as early goals from Leon Goretzka and Kai Havertz paved the way for a 3-0 win over Iceland.

News of Joachim Low's upcoming departure after the Euros dominated the build-up to Germany's Group J opener, though a vibrant performance proved the quality the outgoing boss has at his disposal heading into his final tournament.

Goretzka and Havertz had Germany 2-0 up after just seven minutes – the quickest Die Mannschaft have been two goals ahead in a competitive match since May 1969, when Gerd Muller and Wolfang Overath struck against Cyprus.

In-form Ilkay Gundogan arrowed in his 13th goal of 2021 for club and country midway through the second half, wrapping up a convincing triumph.

A 6-0 defeat to Spain rounded off a frustrating 2020 for Germany, but they made a fantastic start to 2021. Iceland had only touched the ball twice by the time Goretzka drilled home the opener from the centre of the area – Serge Gnabry having cushioned Joshua Kimmich's lofted pass into the midfielder's path.

Kimmich was the architect of Germany's second goal five minutes later with a wonderful throughball to release Leroy Sane, who squared for Havertz to finish coolly.

Germany's lead seemed set to be halved when Runar Mar Sigurjonsson's shot took a wicked deflection off Antonio Rudiger but the ball dropped inches wide.

Kimmich should have had an assist to his name prior to half-time, only for Rudiger to head wide from the midfielder's inch-perfect cross.

Aron Gunnarsson could have done better with a free header shortly after the interval, and any lingering Iceland hopes were swiftly dashed when Gundogan found the bottom-left corner.

Havertz had a goal disallowed for offside and Gnabry hit the post after latching onto another sublime Kimmich pass, but there was no further punishment for new Iceland coach Arnar Vidarsson.

Italy kicked off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a straightforward 2-0 win over Northern Ireland at Stadio Ennio Tardini on Thursday.

The Azzurri entered the contest without defeat in 22 games and that unbeaten run never looked under threat from the moment Domenico Berardi opened the scoring 14 minutes in.

Ciro Immobile doubled the lead for Roberto Mancini's in-form side seven minutes before half-time and the hosts saw out victory despite an improved Northern Ireland display in the second period.

The win moves Italy level on three points with second seeds Switzerland - 3-1 victors against Bulgaria earlier on Thursday - at the top of Group C after their opening fixtures.

Northern Ireland were given an early warning when Immobile chested down Alessandro Florenzi's floated pass and fired straight at Bailey Peacock-Farrell, but there was no stopping Berardi's strike three minutes later.

The Sassuolo forward was played into space down the right by Florenzi and lifted the ball away from Peacock-Farrell at his near post to become the first Italy player to score in three successive matches under Mancini.

Italy continued to patiently probe away and had a second goal through Immobile's drive past Peacock-Farrell - again at the visiting keeper's front post - after being played in by Lorenzo Insigne on the counter.

Gianluigi Donnarumma was called into action twice in quick succession 11 minutes into the second half to keep out Gavin Whyte's volley and Michael Smith's follow-up attempt.

Milan stopper Donnarumma was the busier of the two goalkeepers in the second period, with Craig Cathcart and Steven Davis the next players to be denied, but there was to be no way through as Mancini's men triumphed again.

A late trade for Toronto Raptors great Kyle Lowry did not materialise on Thursday for either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Miami Heat, who signed Victor Oladipo.

The trade deadline passed with Lowry, widely considered the greatest player in Toronto's history, still on the Raptors.

The point guard, who turned 35 on Thursday, said it felt "weird" walking off the court on Wednesday knowing it might be his last appearance for the team.

Lowry played a part in the Raptors snapping a nine-game losing run against the Denver Nuggets, but links to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers and the Heat had persisted in the days leading up to the deadline.

Reports on Thursday continued to detail interest from defending champions LA, in need of reinforcements amid injuries to Anthony Davis and LeBron James, and their 2020 Finals opponents Miami.

But The Athletic's Shams Charania said Toronto were struggling to agree terms with either team as they demanded a young guard in return.

The Lakers reportedly offered Dennis Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope but withheld Talen Horton-Tucker, while the Heat included Duncan Robinson but not Tyler Herro.

It meant the deadline ticked by before ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Lowry would not be moving.

Six-time All-Star Lowry is on an expiring contract but will now see that deal out before heading for free agency, having been with the Raptors since a 2012 trade from the Houston Rockets.

He has averaged 17.6 points, 7.1 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals in that time and started all 24 playoff games in 2018-19, scoring 15.0 points, as Toronto won their first NBA title.

The failure to secure a trade for Lowry meant Toronto lost only one key man on Thursday as sixth-year wing Norman Powell left for the Portland Trail Blazers in the middle of his most prolific season in the NBA.

The 27-year-old, who has a career 9.9 points, has averaged 19.6 per game in 2020-21 despite the team's struggles, establishing himself as a regular starter for the first time.

Powell is shooting 43.9 per cent from three, ranking 10th in the NBA and third among those with 200 or more attempts from beyond the arc.

Gary Trent Jr, moving in the opposite direction, is also enjoying a career year in his third campaign, making the most of increased opportunities amid CJ McCollum's injury woes for the Blazers to score 15.0 points in 30.8 minutes.

Meanwhile, Miami focused their attention on Oladipo, who found a third team of the season.

The 28-year-old guard started the year with the Indiana Pacers before he was moved to the Rockets as they dealt James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.

With Houston loading up on draft picks and setting themselves up for a lottery selection in a difficult year, though, Oladipo - scoring 21.2 points per game - was traded again.

The Heat secured support for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in another title push and in return offered Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a draft swap to the Rockets, The Athletic said.

Sergino Dest's first international goal set the United States on their way to a 4-1 friendly win over Jamaica in Austria on Thursday.

Barcelona wing-back Dest had become the second-youngest American player to score a brace in Europe's 'top five' leagues when netting twice in a 6-1 hammering of Real Sociedad last week and he maintained his impressive form.

Lining up on the left-hand side of a back four, the 20-year-old belatedly forged USA's breakthrough after 34 minutes of dominance.

Dest cut inside from the left and bent a right-footed finish around Jeadine White from the edge of the area, becoming the team's 12th different scorer in their past four matches.

Substitute Brenden Aaronson appeared to take the game away from Jamaica shortly after half-time.

The Salzburg midfielder had earlier created a chance that was squandered by Giovanni Reyna but made no mistake himself from close range when found by Josh Sargent.

A contract dispute meant the Reggae Boyz were robbed of regular stars such as Leon Bailey, instead relying on a host of debutants, but Swansea City's Jamal Lowe - one of the new men - chipped in 20 minutes from time.

Jamaica never truly threatened a late fightback, though, and Sebastian Lletget smartly swept in two more USA goals in the closing stages as they finished with four from 27 attempts.

For the first time in a long time, the new MotoGP season promises a wide-open title race.

Marc Marquez's standing at the top of the sport has long been undisputed, but injury robbed him of his 2020 campaign and allowed Joan Mir to profit.

A response from Marquez this year has to be expected, but he will not be fit in time for the Qatar double-header that begins the season.

The first of the two Losail International Circuit races comes on Sunday, when Marquez's rivals will be looking to send a message to the absent superstar ahead of another intriguing title tussle.
 

MIR A THREAT TO MARQUEZ?

The 2020 championship would typically make Mir the man to beat in 2021, but Marquez is the bookmakers' favourite, even as he prepares to sit out the start of the season.

Prior to last season, when he appeared in only the first grand prix, Marquez had six titles in seven years.

The Repsol Honda rider will be confident, too, that his delayed recovery will not negatively impact his challenge. This will be the 14th time the campaign has started in Qatar but only four of the previous 13 race winners – most recently Marquez in 2013 – have gone on to top the standings at the end of the year.

Indeed, it is not an event Marquez will mind missing too much, with just one win in seven appearances at the Qatar Grand Prix.

If he can return swiftly afterwards, however, his rivals will have reason to fear. Excluding four abandonments, Marquez has finished first (16 times) or second (eight) in his past 24 races.

Mir's sole previous appearance at Qatar does not suggest he will be able to forge an early lead either, having finished eighth in 2018.

But the defending champion made the podium in seven of his final 11 races in 2020 to clinch the title, Suzuki Ecstar's first riders' championship since 2000.
 

CHALLENGERS TO THE CHAMPIONS

Mir was the man who went away with the title as Marquez missed out, but he was not alone in pursuit of the six-time champion's crown.

Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli was second last year, just 13 points back, and finished the campaign with two wins in four races, as well as consecutive podiums to end the season.

Jack Miller, now of the factory Ducati team, joined Morbidelli on the podium on both occasions and is being counted among the contenders despite never finishing higher than seventh over the course of a season in this category.

Morbidelli's team-mate last year Fabio Quartararo has moved to the Yamaha factory team after a disappointing 2020, but he has shown just what a threat he can be early in the year, starting with back-to-back victories last time out.

And while Marquez and Mir at least do not have to worry about Andrea Dovizioso, taking a one-year sabbatical, the Honda man might find competition a little closer to home.

New team-mate Pol Espargaro earned his move with five podiums in his past 10 races after only one in the previous 109.
 

THE OLD AND THE NEW

Marquez could join Valentino Rossi on seven titles, behind only Giacomo Agostini (eight) in the 500cc class, with another championship – and the Italian is highly unlikely to play any part in stopping him.

With Marquez out of the picture, veteran Rossi slumped to a career-worst 15th place in the standings last season, with only a single podium – his lowest return since 2011.

That disappointing campaign brought an end to the 42-year-old's second stint with the Yamaha factory team.

Rossi will instead ride for Petronas Yamaha, where he needs just one more podium to become the first 500cc/MotoGP rider to the 500 mark.

At the other end of the spectrum, Luca Marini, Enea Bastianini and Jorge Martin are debutants.

There were three new men in 2020, too, although with Esponsorama Racing pair Marini and Bastianini, this is the first year since 2013 (Andrea Ianone and Claudio Corti) there will be two Italians making their bow in the same year.

It's been some time since the Phoenix Suns finished a season above .500, and even longer since they last appeared in the playoffs. While both droughts will end this season, the question remains whether they are a legitimate title contender in a stacked Western Conference. 

Ask around as to which teams are most likely to win a championship and the Lakers, Clippers, Nets and maybe the Jazz, Bucks and 76ers would garner the most responses. That is somewhat curious since only Utah and Philadelphia currently have better records than Phoenix, who are an NBA-best 21-6 since January 28. 

The Suns showed signs of what they could become when they went 8-0 in the seeding games in the NBA 'bubble' last season, though they still missed out on the play-in in the West. The biggest reason behind that success was the otherworldly play of Devin Booker, who averaged 30.5 points on 50.3 per cent from the field with 6.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds. 

Sensing the Suns were on the verge of reversing their recent fortunes, general manager James Jones made the offseason move to acquire Chris Paul from Oklahoma City in the hopes of building on that success. Paul, an 11-time All-Star who recently became the sixth player to reach 10,000 assists, has accumulated all kinds of accolades during his 16-year career but, most importantly, is still playing at a very high level.  

Paul has twice helped guide a team to their most wins in a season in franchise history, doing so with the Hornets/Pelicans in 2007 and the Rockets in 2017-18. Though they won't reach that lofty standard in this abbreviated season, the Suns' current .674 winning percentage (29-14) would be their best since 2006-07. 

Paul's acquisition instantly made Phoenix better both on and off court and gave the franchise a measure of respect that only players of his calibre can bring. His ability to run an offense combined with Booker's continued ascent to stardom has the Suns in unfamiliar territory. 

Phoenix haven't had a winning season since going 48-34 in 2013-14 and only Sacramento (14) and New York (seven) have longer active stretches without finishing over .500. The Suns last reached the postseason in 2009-10, when current Nets coach Steve Nash was manning the point. The 10-season drought is the league's second-longest, trailing only Sacramento (14).  

Where that improvement has come from is maybe the most surprising aspect of Phoenix's success.  

Long known as a free-wheeling, offensive-minded team, the Suns are winning mainly with defense this season. Phoenix have finished 20th or worse in scoring defense in each of the last 17 seasons and ranked dead-last as recently as 2017-18.  

That’s no longer the case as Phoenix are allowing 107.4 points per game, third-best in the NBA. It's been nearly 40 years since the Suns finished a season in the top five of that category (102.0 in 1982-83, ranking third).

That's quite a turnaround from last season, when the Suns ranked 20th in the league in scoring defence, an improvement of 6.0 points.

There's no denying that strong defensive teams are geared for postseason success, and the Suns' depth should also be an advantage in the playoffs. While Booker is Phoenix's undisputed star and focus of the offense, there are plenty of other pieces capable of driving the offense.  

The Suns have seven players averaging in double figures, which is tied for the league lead (minimum 20 games played). They also have four players with at least 100 assists, a total bettered only by the Hornets, Nuggets, Kings and Bucks. 

Phoenix also have proven to be a stellar road team with a league-best 14-6 mark. That bodes well if they need to win playoff games at Utah, Los Angeles or Denver.  

After Booker and Paul, Phoenix’s third-leading scorer is DeAndre Ayton. The third-year center hasn't put up monster offensive numbers (14.7 ppg) that often are expected of a number one overall pick, but he ranks among the league leaders in rebounding (11.0) and his defensive versatility is a huge reason for the Suns' success.  

Ayton has also shown a knack for raising his play in the second half, shooting 65.1 per cent from the field after half-time - the third-best such rate among players with 150 attempts. 

Mikal Bridges (13.5), Jae Crowder (10.3), Cameron Johnson (10.3) and Dario Saric (10.0) also are scoring in double figures for the Suns. Bridges has made a huge leap this season, going from 9.1 points and 3.1 rebounds last season to 13.5 and 4.8 this season. He's also shooting 52.6 per cent from the field and ranks second on the team with 79 three-pointers.  

After Paul (10 straight playoff appearances) and Crowder (eight straight), this group does not boast extensive playoff experience and that includes coach Monty Williams. But Paul is among the game's great leaders and will be counted on heavily to guide the Suns through the postseason. 

Unlike several other top contenders, Phoenix have been extremely fortunate with injuries. The team's top six rotation players (Booker, Paul, Ayton, Bridges, Crowder and Johnson) have combined to miss only 19 games and Phoenix have used just five different starting lineups. Only Utah have used fewer (three).  

The Suns have fared well against some of the league's best teams with a 5-2 mark against the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Nets, Bucks and 76ers, but some of those wins have come against clubs missing top players due to injuries.  

That makes it difficult to get a read on how the Suns might perform in the postseason but considering the franchise has never won a championship in its 53-year history or even been in the playoffs for over a decade, the time for accomplishment is certainly now. 

Two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic is being traded from the Orlando Magic to the Chicago Bulls in Thursday's first big deal ahead of the deadline.

The Magic were expected to be involved in developments prior to the trade deadline – at 15:00 ET (19:00 GMT) – as numerous teams reportedly show an interest in Aaron Gordon.

But star five Vucevic will be the first to depart as Orlando appear to acknowledge they are now focusing on a rebuild, with Evan Fournier following to the Boston Celtics.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said the Magic were sending Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu to Chicago for Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and first-round picks in 2021 and 2023.

The Celtics sent two second-round selections for Fournier, the report said.

Orlando are 14th in the East with a 15-26 record while the Bulls occupy 10th, the final play-in spot, at 19-24.

Vucevic was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2011 draft but was traded to the Magic after his first season in the NBA, having scored just 5.5 points per game in only 15.9 minutes.

The center has since turned into a reliable performer in the league, though, averaging 16.7 points and 10.3 rebounds across his career.

Vucevic was selected for the All-Star Game in 2019, when he passed 20 points per game for the first time over a season (20.8), and again this year.

The 30-year-old leads Orlando with 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds, starting all 44 of their games.

He ranks 17th in the league for scoring, but none of the players above him in that list can match the Montenegrin for boards.

With wing Fournier also departing, having chipped in with 19.7 points, the Magic are losing their two leading scorers.

Forward Aminu had also been starting for the team, averaging 5.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 21.6 minutes in 2020-21.

Meanwhile, former Washington Wizards forward Porter leaves Chicago having played the same number of minutes per game this year, contributing 9.9 points and 5.5 boards.

Third-year center Carter had 25 starts in 32 appearances for the Bulls this season and was the team's leading rebounder (7.8) and fifth-highest scorer (10.9).

Chicago may not yet be done, with ESPN's report adding details of their continued interest in the New Orleans Pelicans' Lonzo Ball.

Ronald Koeman is a "great coach" who has expertly handled Barcelona's difficulties this season, according to defender Ronald Araujo. 

Koeman, who was appointed last August on a two-year contract, has had to manage the fallout from Lionel Messi's ultimately unsuccessful transfer request ahead of the 2020-21 campaign. 

A failure to get past the last-16 stage in the Champions League was a major disappointment, but a superb recent run in LaLiga has given them a chance of catching leaders Atletico Madrid. 

Sunday's 6-1 thumping of Real Sociedad – a ninth consecutive top-flight away win – lifted them to within four points of Diego Simeone's side heading into the international break.

Uruguayan Araujo, who has played in 15 LaLiga games this season after featuring in just six during his debut campaign in 2019-20, has been impressed with Koeman's efforts and wants him to remain at the helm beyond this season. 

"It's very good that the board has confidence in Koeman because the boss has shown that he is a great coach," the 22-year-old told TV3. 

"He is very good with the team and the locker room. This relationship is very important. I am very happy that he can continue with us because he brings a lot to us, especially the young people.

"The work he had in front of him was not at all easy, considering how the whole situation was. But he is a coach with a lot of character, who knows how to deal with these issues, and the coaching staff have done a very good job. 

"We are working well and that translates into the way the locker room is and the results."

Araujo also declared his admiration for Messi and hopes Barca's talisman stays at Camp Nou beyond this season.

On Sunday, Messi overtook Xavi as the player with the most appearances for Barca (768), six days after the 33-year-old scored a 20th LaLiga goal for the 13th successive season – another record.

The Argentina forward has been involved in more goals in 2021 than any other player across Europe's 'top five' leagues, but he still has not tied his future to the Catalan club, with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain reportedly interested in signing him. 

"I hope he stays with us next year and many more years to come," Araujo added. "Leo is fine, I see him very happy. He works a lot, not only in matches, but also in training. 

"Messi trains like a beast and that's very good because he is the captain and he is a reference, and he spreads it to us all, to the rest of the team and to the young people."

Barca host Real Valladolid in LaLiga on April 5 after the international break, followed by El Clasico against Real Madrid five days later.

Gareth Southgate is set to bring up 50 games in charge when England start their qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

San Marino are the visitors to Wembley Stadium for the milestone match, with Southgate the seventh to make it to a half-century at the helm for England.

His record so far is impressive: 29 wins, 10 draws and 10 defeats. He has also introduced some notable names to international football, many of which will form the backbone for the Three Lions in this year's delayed Euro 2020 tournament. 

In total, 42 players have made their senior debuts under the current boss. Plenty have made an impact, though some have fallen by the wayside since getting a taste of the senior team. 

HITS 

Jesse Lingard 

Lingard is the only member of the current England squad to have made his debut in Southgate's first match in charge, a 2-0 win over Malta in October 2016. The 28-year-old was a key member of the 2018 World Cup squad but has not featured for his country since the Nations League Finals nearly two years ago, having struggled for minutes at Manchester United. 

However, a January loan move to West Ham has paid off. No player has been involved in more goals – Lingard has scored five while also providing two assists – since his debut for the Hammers in February. Southgate – who advised the player to remain in the Premier League – has duly taken note, handing him a recall. 

Harry Maguire 

Maguire made his first England appearance against Lithuania in October 2017, when he was playing for Leicester City. The centre-back quickly established himself in Southgate's side for the World Cup semi-final run, while he has continued to be a mainstay since for the national side.  

Indeed, the Manchester United defender has missed just 14 possible outings for club and country since that maiden outing, starting 28 out of England's 30 matches. 

Kieran Trippier 

Paris was the setting for Trippier's bow, the full-back handed a chance in a 3-2 friendly defeat against France that saw him start alongside then-Tottenham team-mates Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane. 

Now playing his club football in Spain with Atletico Madrid, the 30-year-old continues to be a key attacking outlet for Southgate's teams. His total of 55 chances created since June 2017 is comfortably the highest for England, with striker Kane second on the list with 37. 

Jordan Pickford 

No player has both played and started more games for England under Southgate than Pickford, whose debut came in November 2017.  With 30 appearances, he sits one ahead of Maguire.

The Everton goalkeeper will not be involved as his manager celebrates his 50th match at the helm, though, as an abdominal muscle injury sees him missing for March's World Cup qualifiers. His absence also offers some of his rivals for the starting job an opportunity to stake their claim to be considered number one, with Pickford's form having been somewhat unconvincing for a while.

Declan Rice 

Rice's introduction to action for England came via a substitute appearance during a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic two years ago, replacing Alli just after the hour mark. 

The midfielder started all six of the Nations League qualifiers in 2020-21, including scoring his first international goal in a 4-0 triumph over Iceland. As for his club career, only Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole played more minutes in the Premier League for West Ham than Rice before the age of 22.


MISSES 

Nathaniel Chalobah 

Having represented England through the youth levels from under-16s upwards, Chalobah has so far played one solitary minute for the senior team, with his late, late opportunity coming against Spain in October 2018.  

Since then, the former Chelsea midfielder has started just 42 league games for Watford. This season he is plying his trade in the Championship, contributing three goals and an assist as the Hornets aim for an immediate return to the top flight. 

Dominic Solanke 

Solanke was part of the England squad that won the 2014 European Under-17 Championship, including scoring in a final against the Netherlands that was eventually settled by a penalty shoot-out. 

His senior debut came against Brazil in November 2017, but he has not been involved since. The striker signed for Bournemouth in January 2019 but failed to score in his first 38 Premier League appearances for the club, a barren run finally ended with a brace against Leicester in July 2020. He has been far more prolific in the Championship, getting 11 goals.

Lewis Cook 

Cook had success with England at youth level, captaining the squad that went all the way at the Under-20 World Cup. Solanke was also involved in that tournament, along with full internationals Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dean Henderson - who was not first choice in goal - and Fikayo Tomori. 

The midfielder's maiden appearance for the senior side earned his grandfather a tidy windfall through a winning bet, but that outing as a substitute against Italy at Wembley remains his only cap. Since then, he has started 58 games for Bournemouth, scoring once. 

Jack Cork 

Another to be handed a late cameo by Southgate, Cork featured for all of four minutes in a friendly with Germany in November 2017. A young line-up that included new faces Pickford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek managed a 0-0 draw at Wembley. 

The midfielder – who was part of the Great Britain squad coached by Stuart Pearce at the 2012 Olympic Games in London – was a regular at Burnley before injuries hampered him in the current season, restricting him to just nine league outings for Sean Dyche's team in the 2020-21 campaign. 

Lewis Dunk 

Dunk has helped Brighton and Hove Albion rise from League One to the Premier League, with his performances earning him an England opportunity against the United States in November 2018. He started in a 3-0 win that saw Wayne Rooney make his 120th and final appearance for the Three Lions. 

The centre-back has not featured since, however, despite remaining a mainstay for his club. Since August 2018, Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (10) is the only defender to have scored more Premier League goals than Dunk's impressive total of nine.  

Mason Mount is relishing the battle for places in the England team, particularly with Jack Grealish and Phil Foden in the long term. 

England manager Gareth Southgate has something of an embarrassment of riches in the attacking positions at the moment, with a host of players thriving at club level. 

Mount has been a key man for Chelsea this term, playing more minutes (2,231) than any of his team-mates, while his 69 chances created is 41 more than anyone else. 

He has been a creative pillar for the Blues, as further evidenced by his 168 passes into the box being by far the most among Chelsea players, while the fact he quickly won his place back after being left out for Thomas Tuchel's first game in charge speaks to his impressive mentality. 

That attitude will surely stand him in good stead not only at club level but also for England, whose creative options seem to be improving with each international window.

 

The advantage that Mount believes he has, however, is his versatility. 

"I am always trying to improve," he told reporters ahead of England's opening 2022 World Cup qualifier against San Marino on Thursday. "I feel like I am versatile and can play in a deeper role and obviously in a more forward role. I'm always learning. I'm still young and I'm still learning. 

"In terms of the formation, we are versatile as a team. In the modern game, you have to be ready to change if the other team are tactically different to what you have prepared for. 

"We are ready for that, definitely. I feel like I can play in any position and I just want to understand, more and more, different positions." 

Elaborating on England's strength in depth, Mount added: "There are so many good players in this team. 

"I've seen Jack and Phil do brilliant things. It motivates me to want to do the same. We all have ambitions to win major trophies, at England and at club level we're all competing to want to do that." 

Of course, Mount's comments help pose the question: can he line up alongside Grealish and Foden in the same team? 

Well, they have done once already – against Iceland in November 2020, as all three started and England won 4-0. 

Mount, occupying a deeper role, did catch the eye as he got the Three Lions' second goal, though Foden and Grealish were arguably more impressive. 

 

Playing from the left, Grealish – whose 75 key passes in the Premier League this season is bettered by only Bruno Fernandes – was lively and created three chances, while also winning 81.8 per cent of his 11 duels. 

Of those involved in three duels or more, only Harry Maguire (15, 86.7 per cent) produced a stronger display, highlighting Grealish's competitive streak in the final third. 

Foden's performance had a similar relentlessness to it, his record in duels identical to the numbers for Grealish, though he was more decisive in attack when on the ball. 

The Manchester City talent scored twice, got an assist and laid on three chances, behind only Harry Kane on four. 

As such, Mount's display could be considered a little less impactful for England going forward. Sure, his 87.8 per cent pass completion rate in the opposing half was good, but none were considered key passes. 

It suggests that, while certainly possible to get all three into the line-up, if Southgate is to persist with his 3-4-3 formation, Mount will be the one shoe-horned into the team. 

With that in mind, it seems likely Mount's greatest strength – his creativity – could become stifled. 

However, with Grealish absent through injury, Mount has another opportunity to stake his claim as a key player in this team – succeeding in that respect will surely be reflected by an elevated status, with England's central midfield often crying out for more creativity in recent years. 

England's best hopes for a trophy in 2021 might just be their Under-21 squad.

Aidy Boothroyd's youngsters head into the group stage of the Euro Under-21 finals as legitimate contenders for the trophy, despite being placed in a seriously tough group with Croatia, Portugal and Switzerland.

History is against England, too. They have reached the finals for eight consecutive tournaments but have only progressed from the group stages three times in that sequence. Since winning the trophy in 1984, they have reached the final only once, in 2009, where they lost to Germany.

Still, Boothroyd is undoubtedly blessed with a rich pool of talent, despite leaving out stars such as Phil Foden, Reece James and Jude Bellingham, who will all be involved in the senior side's World Cup qualifiers this month. There is a strength in depth to the Young Lions that should give them real hope of going all the way.

Perhaps the current crop can also buck the trend when it comes to breaking into the senior fold. Only 17 of the 48 players from the previous two Euro Under-21 squads have gone on to play for the full England side, and only Jordan Pickford could consider himself a regular there.

In short, this undoubtedly talented group has plenty to play for…

 

Max-imum opportunity

In front of keeper Aaron Ramsdale, who was in goal for all but one of their qualifiers, sits an encouraging defence.

Norwich City full-back Max Aarons has not only kept 15 clean sheets with the Championship leaders, but his attacking threat has been marked this season. Aarons has created 51 chances from open play and completed 52 dribbles, both the second-best figures among defenders in the competition. At the same time, Aarons has only been beaten by an opponent's dribble 13 times, the lowest number among the top nine of that particular group of attack-minded defenders. Little wonder he is a reported target for Bayern Munich and Everton, among others.

Japhet Tanganga of Tottenham is untested at this level but Jose Mourinho's young protege will not have far to look for a (relatively) experienced guide. Spurs' Ryan Sessegnon, one of just two England players who also played at the 2019 finals, has enjoyed an impressive loan spell at Hoffenheim this season, winning more tackles per 90 minutes (1.7) than anyone else for the Bundesliga side. He has also contributed two goals and two assists – only five Bundesliga defenders have had more direct goal involvements.

There's Rowe stopping him

Arguably England's most in-form young midfielder outside the senior squad has amazingly never played before for the Under-21s.

Emile Smith Rowe has been the big success story of Mikel Arteta's time in charge of Arsenal. Since the start of last season, as well as scoring twice and registering six assists, he has created 1.5 chances from open play per 90 minutes in all competitions, the best number among Gunners midfielders to start at least 10 matches in that time.

 

In 2020-21, Smith Rowe (nine) is second only to Mason Mount (14) for players 23 and under in the Premier League when it comes to multi-chance involvements – the number of unique shot-ending sequences in open play where a player both creates the chance and is involved in the build-up.

Exactly how Boothroyd deploys Smith Rowe remains to be seen, but he could offer a potent combination with rising Liverpool star Curtis Jones, a major plus in an otherwise troubled Premier League title defence for Jurgen Klopp.

Jones, the youngest Liverpool player to score in the Premier League away from Anfield in seven years, averages the most successful final-third passes (22.5) this season of any Reds player to feature in at least half of their league games.

Among Premier League midfielders in this age group this season, only Mount (nine) has been involved in more sequences that ended in them taking a shot at goal than Jones (seven) – and the Liverpool man has played fewer than half the minutes of the Chelsea star.

On the wings, Callum Hudson-Odoi might have experience of playing for England at the highest level, but a strong performance at these championships could be just what he needs as he begins to build up the trust of Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel. Since the German took charge on January 26, no Blues player has played more games (13) than Hudson-Odoi and only two have created more chances per 90 minutes (1.71). His directness down the wing could be a major asset: among players 23 or under in the Premier League, only Ferran Torres (0.59) has a better rating than Hudson-Odoi (0.55) when it comes to Expected Assists from a take-on.

Madueke's chance to shine

With Mason Greenwood having withdrawn due to injury, much of the goalscoring burden may fall on the Under-21s' all-time top marksman, Eddie Nketiah.

 

Arsenal's young striker has one goal in three league starts this season and three in six in the Europa League, but the international stage is where he really shines: 13 goals in nine qualifying games helped him become the Young Lions' record goalscorer, surpassing Alan Shearer.

If Nketiah should struggle for form, Boothroyd can turn to Noni Madueke. An unknown at this level on the international scene, Ruud van Nistelrooy's PSV pupil has 11 direct goal involvements in the Eredivisie this season – no teenager has more – with his seven goals coming in just six starts in the Dutch top flight, at an average of just over one for every four non-penalty shots.

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