Thursday, April 22, 2021
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San Marino- sans talent?

San Marino Crest

As England gear up for a World Cup qualifier against San Marino on Thursday evening, it might be worth considering just why La Serinissima- as they're called back home- often top “ worst of the worst” lists! The first point to draw attention to this is probably the most important- they've won just one match, a 2004 friendly with Liechtenstein, & while they've participated in every World Cup & European Championship qualifying campaign since their début as a competitive nation, they still await a competitive win.

 

 

Their first match in any FIFA- sanctioned competition was a Euro '92 qualifier against Switzerland on 14 November 1990, an occasion duly marked with a 4-0 defeat which served as something of an ominous portent. They went on to lose every away game of that campaign by at least four goals, scoring only one of their own via a penalty in a home defeat to Romania & ended it all having conceded 33 goals & not a sniff of a tournament spot at the first time of asking.

 

The story of their first attempt to get to a World Cup provides an interesting footnote in that the Three Lions were among those drawn with them in the group stages- Holland, Norway, Poland & Turkey rounding out their opposition.

 

And as you may very well have guessed by now, their first match then also ended in defeat- this one of the sort we expect to see when they're mentioned in dispatches as the Norwegians thumped them 10-0! At least they managed to score a maiden goal in a 4-1 loss to the Turks, & would go on to make a bit of history for themselves as one of their own, Davide Gualtieri, managed to snaffle what was then the fastest ever goal in a qualifier just 8.3 seconds into their final action against England.

 

But we all know how it turned out, victory absolutely ruthlessly snatched & turned to defeat by the seven strikes England managed in response! Somewhat inevitably they never made it to Euro '96 on English soil either, though they did get a first away Euros goal in a 4-1 defeat to Finland. You might have thought they'd fancy their chances against the only team in the group with a comparable record, at least? If so, you'd be completely wrong...

 

But at least they managed to add another goal to their tiny overall tally, even if the Faroe Islands' visit ended with the away side nabbing all three points. The away game offered the chance for another bit of history as San Marino lost 3-0 to give their hosts a biggest competitive win to date!

 

Long- suffering doesn't even begin to cut it for those watching them do it, let alone the players subjecting them to it, some might note. But, if they'd even allowed the thought of ending the drought & making it to France '98 for a maiden World Cup to enter their heads as a little sunshine amidst the cloud, they were sadly mistaken as very bad swiftly became terrible.

 

At least beforehand they'd been scoring in an often heavy defeat. Here though, they couldn't even find the back of the net once & lost every game by three goals or more save for a 1-0 defeat by Cyprus.

 

New ground would be broken as the Jules Rimet Trophy embarked on its first voyage to Asia, a Japan/Korea co- hosting once again not seeing San Marino make the plane. However, they did manage a high of three goals in the attempt to get there, one coming as a rather belated response in an eventual 10-1 thrashing by Belgium. How they must have wished they could still be seen as Italian- the view taken by both FIFA & UEFA prior to the country becoming a member of both.

 

San Marino has in fact had its own FA since 1931, though it would take until 1986 for a team to be put together to represent it in a friendly against Canada's Olympic side & December of last year for FIFA to recognise them as comfortably the worst team in its own rankings!

 

This even after slumping to a record low with a 13-0 loss to Germany in Euro 2008 qualifying & just two years later shipping 47 goals in ten matches during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. Ten of those were put past them by Poland, who helped themselves to another slice of history at San Marinese expense as that became their highest ever international victory!

 

Euro 2012 must have finally been the point at which they wondered why they bothered turning up, an 11-0 loss to Holland becoming a new record Dutch winning margin & contributing to an overall 49 goals conceded & none scored.

 

Then, the following year, something of a miracle in that they finally found their shooting boots again as an Alessandro Della Valle header flew past Artur Boruc in the Polish goal to equalise. Rather cruelly parity lasted just a minute & Poland went on to win 5-1!

 

A 61-game losing run then ended with a 2014 draw with Estonia- a more welcome bit of recent history made as it secured San Marino's first ever Euros qualifying point. Last year saw them making strides towards threatening to become more than a footnote & practical shorthand for terrible when they pulled off more than one point in a year, following Nations League draws with Gibraltar & Liechtenstein- both goalless, & meaning they went unbeaten in two games for the first time in their surprisingly long history.

 

The game with Gibraltar marked a clash between the two smallest populations of FIFA member nations- San Marino holding that particular record until their opponents were finally admitted in May of 2013. Their national stadium, as is only to be expected, holds a relatively small capacity of 7,000 & home fans are understandably often outnumbered by the ranks of travelling supporters.

 

The majority of those playing for the national side are strictly amateur- the embarrassment of failing to beat them led to then Latvia manager Gary Johnson resigning in 2001. Suffering 20+ game losing streaks have become commonplace for San Marino- another of the all too depressing milestones for the less than 7,000 souls following their fortunes, or lack thereof as the facts make clear!

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