England begin the road to next year’s World Cup against a team who have NEVER won a competitive match.
San Marino are the lowest ranked team in world football, they have a population of 33,000 and are made up largely of part-timers.
And if England stars think this season has been difficult, then spare a thought for San Marino who were not able to play for FOUR MONTHS.
It is hardly the best preparation for a trip to Wembley but the world’s lowest ranked team still see it as a huge adventure to face England.
San Marino boss Franco Varrella, 68, a former Juventus youth team player and experienced coach, said: “We only started one month ago, we’ve played just four official games before this triple header of World Cup qualifying matches.
“When the opposition is so tough, the challenges are incredibly high. But it is a dream to play great teams but the challenge for every team is to make sure we never enter the pitch already beaten. That is our target for this game, to enter the pitch not beaten.
“England are a very good team now. They play a much more international style than they have in recent years.”
Veteran midfielder Mirko Palazzi, 34, added: “To play here at Wembley is always a very proud moment for us, especially in such a historical moment at the start of a campaign.
“We want to make a better start ourselves at Wembley because it is a temple of football and England are one of the best teams in the world.
“We’ve played as a national team in so many games with some really big opponents, England, Spain and Germany. Each time we’ve faced professional opponents, even with the smaller teams.
“We want to be as professional as possible even if we’re not professional and we’re normal working people. But when San Marino players end their careers, the most beautiful memories will be from the national team, playing in great stadiums.
“I’ve played at Wembley three times and it’s incredible – even if it’s a source of jokes from my team mates in the locker room.”
San Marino have played England six times, lost all six, conceding 37 goals and scoring just once… the famous opening goal back in 1993 when Davide Gualtieri scored after just 8.3 seconds which remains the second fastest goal in World Cup qualifying history.
Gualtieri is a national hero despite England eventually winning 7-1 but they still missed out on qualifying for the 1994 World Cup which cost Graham Taylor his job.
Incredibly, they were ranked 118th – which was their highest ever standing – after losing to England in 1993 but, after several changes to the FIFA system in recent years, they now find themselves marooned nearly 100 places lower at the bottom of the pile.
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FIFA has 211 recognised nations but only 210 are currently ranked.
But they have just enjoyed their best ever sequence – two consecutive goalless draws against Lichtenstein and then Gibraltar – and so all hope is not lost.
There will always be debate about whether minnows should be playing big nations but this remains a dream come true for San Marino and striker Matteo Vitaioli sums up the mood in the squad.
Vitaioli, 31, who has scored one goal in 62 caps while working part time in a graphic design office, said: “We will share the pitch with players that we are used to seeing on TV.”
Football has always been about dreams and romance – and San Marino are entitled to theirs.
[email protected] (John Cross)