Bit part for part timers

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The Independent Online
Wales 6 San Marino 0

One word seemed to be apposite after this match: why? What possible function do San Marino fulfil in the World Cup other than to improve the goals per-game ratio of opposition strikers. Why are such cannon fodder allowed into the competition?

In the past you could at least point to the goals for column as reason enough. Beat the part-timers 6-0 and at least you were gaining an advantage when fellow travellers in the same group failed to match such a stuffing. Now that Fifa, the governing body, have tinkered with the rules so that results against the worst teams count for nothing but points, even that justification is denied.

Wales have now walloped this lot to the tune of 11 goals, but unless the Netherlands, Belgium or Turkey drop a point against them - and on Saturday that looked about as likely as Lord Saatchi getting a warm welcome at the Labour Party conference - they might just as well have had two 1-0 wins for the relevance these matches will have in deciding who plays in France in two years' time.

Better still, Ryan Giggs might have the nous not to get booked in both games and be available for the far more meaningful fixture against the Netherlands in Cardiff on 5 October. Losing the Manchester United winger, you suspect, will become the main consequence of these two mismatches.

Afterwards the Welsh argued that Giggs had been a victim of a mistake and that his sarcastic applause was aimed at San Marino's Vittorio Valentini instead of the referee, in which case some advice: If you want to indulge in the lowest form of wit, Ryan, it might be an idea to look at the intended recipient instead of a match official, because if I had been Mr Hamer I would have reacted identically.

Neville Southall, the Welsh goalkeeper-cum-coach, said afterwards that Giggs' absence will provide an opportunity for someone else, and a logical replacement would be Gary Speed. But, with all due respect to him, the sleep of the Dutch coach is less likely to be troubled by the Everton winger, no matter how good his form since the pounds 3.5m transfer from Leeds, than it would by Giggs.

The value to Wales of the Manchester United player was apparent from his part in the goal that made this match a formality within 90 seconds. He aped to dribble then curled a lovely pass down the left that probably still has Dean Saunders drooling. Given the invitation, the Nottingham Forest striker accepted, beating the hapless and hopeless Stefano Muccioli from 12 yards.

With that it was just a matter of how many Wales would score and given that they hit the bar and post four times, had two goals disallowed and Saunders a penalty save, six might seem an unsatisfactory answer. Although, as Southall insisted, they would have been more than happy with that sum if they had been offered it before the kick off.

"If we'd got 10 people would still have asked why we didn't get more," he said. "We did a professional job on them and equalled our record in a World Cup match. I think we've every reason to feel satisfied."

As for what satisfaction San Marino derived is debatable. By the end they had become a thoroughly unedifying bunch, querying decisions and flying into tackles with the intention of making a point rather than winning the ball and it was no more than they deserved when Pier Angelo Manzaroli was sent off in injury time for two bookable offences. The sooner they are put into a pre-qualifying competition the better.

Goals: Saunders (1) 1-0; Hughes (25) 2-0; Melville (33) 3-0; Robinson (44) 4-0; Hughes (63) 5-0; Saunders (74) 6-0.

WALES (4-4-2): Southall (Everton), Bowen (West Ham), Melville (Sunderland), Coleman (Blackburn), Pembridge (Sheffield Wednesday), Robinson (Charlton), Horne (Birmingham), Browning (Bristol Rovers), Giggs (Manchester United), Hughes (Chelsea), Saunders (Nottingham Forest). Substitutes: Roberts (Queen's Park Rangers) for Southall, 71; Speed (Everton) for Robinson, 76; Taylor (Sheffield Utd) for Coleman, 80.

SAN MARINO (5-4-1): Muccioli (AC San Marino), V Valentini (Ponteverucchio), L Gasperoni (Pietracuta), Guerra (San Marino), Gobbi (Juvenes), Gennari (Juvenes), B Gasperoni (Riccione), Bacciocchi (Santarcangioles), Mazza (Santa Marinella), Pier Manzaroli (San Marino), Montagna (Juvenes). Substitutes: Francini (Bellaria) for Bacciocchi, 43; Matteoni (Juvenes) for L Gasperoni, 66; Pasolini (Ponte Verucchio) for Mazza, 79.

Referee: A Hamer (Luxembourg).

Sending off: San Marino: Pier Manzaroli. Bookings: Wales: Giggs. San Marino: Muccioli, L Gasperoni, B Gasperoni.

Man of the match: Browning. Attendance: 15,000.