Roy Hodgson's recollections of the night England last played San Marino away will be very different to the average Englishman.

While England was embarrassingly trailing 1-0 to the team from the tiny republic after only 8.3 seconds in a failed campaign to reach the 1994 World Cup, Hodgson was guiding Switzerland to the tournament on what he described at the time as "the greatest day of my life."

Twenty years on, Hodgson is in charge of his country's national team and heads into Friday's match in Serravalle looking to avoid a humiliating slip-up that would compromise England's chances of qualifying for next year's World Cup in Brazil.

San Marino shouldn't pose a problem for the English, though; it is joint-bottom of the FIFA rankings, without a point at the foot of Group H, and with just one win in its history — in a friendly against Liechtenstein in 2004.

"I just checked up on them to see if San Marino have scored a goal recently but they haven't," said England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who should have a quiet day in front of a sell-out crowd of 5,000 at the Stadio Olimpico. "Someone is going to concede against them and hopefully, if I'm playing, it won't be me.

"That's the beauty of international football. We can go to stadiums of 85,000 mad, passionate football fans, and then you've still got to go and do the hard yards."

England's problems in central defense — Rio Ferdinand, Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill have all pulled out over the past week with fitness issues — shouldn't affect the team until Tuesday, when it plays Montenegro in Podgorica in a pivotal match between the group's top two. Montenegro is two points clear after four games.

Instead, Friday's qualifier should be all about how many goals England can rack up, and gives a chance for Wayne Rooney to continue his climb up the national team's scoring charts.

Unsure of his place in Manchester United's starting lineup, Rooney remains first choice for his country and will be disappointed if he fails to add to his haul of 33 international goals on Friday. After recently leapfrogging Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer (all on 30 goals), next in his sights is Michael Owen, who will not be increasing his tally of 40 after announcing he will be retiring from football at the end of this season.

Rooney scored in England's last match, a 2-1 win over Brazil that has boosted confidence ahead of the return to World Cup qualifying and was notable for the improvement in England's oft-criticized passing game and ball retention.

"I think we are moving forward all the time and the performances are improving as well. That's a positive sign," England midfielder James Milner said.

"The squad is in a really good place at the moment. The longer we work with the manager, he is obviously going to get his ideas over as well, and you will see improvements in the team."

Hodgson was mindful of having to balance continuity with resting players for Tuesday's game.

"It's sometimes disrespectful to write off San Marino," he said. "OK, they are a small country and have not been capable of producing results at the very, very top level like the Brazils and the Germanys but considering the size of the country, they have done remarkably well."

San Marino, the third-smallest country in Europe (after the Vatican and Monaco) with a population of 32,000 and whose team includes an accountant, a student, an electrician and an olive-oil worker, will forever hold a special place in English football history after that Davide Gualtieri goal in 1993.

England actually won the match 7-1 in Bologna, but the result paled into insignificance after Gualtieri's strike following an under-hit back-pass by Stuart Pearce. It remains the fastest goal in a World Cup qualifier.

Under coach Giampaolo Mazza, San Marino has won once, drawn twice and lost 75 times since 1998.

"Our dream is to always play a good game and limit the potential damage," Mazza, who has only around 50 players to call upon for national team duty, said on Thursday. "We cannot afford to dream beyond that in a game as tough as tomorrow's."