San Marino v England: San Marino are pointless as they prop up most of the rest of the world

The Italian republic have failed to score a goal in qualifying and are joint bottom of global rankings

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The Independent Football

There is a scar on the history of football in Lichtenstein. It happened nine years ago next month and everything would suggest it will never happen again. On 28 April 2004 Lichtenstein lost a game of football, and in that there is no great surprise, but that it came at the hands of San Marino is. It remains the only game won by San Marino since they entered international competition in 1990. Even then it was a friendly, but it is without doubt the high point for a football federation that exists to make up numbers. Bad numbers.

For starters England will face the 207th Fifa-ranked team in the world. You cannot go any lower. 207 is rock bottom, alongside Bhutan and Turks and Caicos Islands, and if you're wondering where that footballing outpost lies, it is to the east of Cuba.

This qualifying campaign has run to a now all too predictable pattern: four games played, four games lost. Goals for 0, goals against 16. This is non-competitive football in competition format. San Marino are pointless.

From 115 games, there is that victory against Lichtenstein, three draws and 111 defeats. They have scored just 16 times. Andy Selva, one of San Marino's only three professional footballers, has scored half of them, from the 57 internationals he has played. One of those eight was the goal that beat Lichtenstein. Until last year he was the only player to have scored more than once for the country. Manuel Marani, who equalled that feat, is the nation's second top goalscorer, with two.

Of course, in there is an unwanted record for English football.

It took San Marino just 8.3 seconds to score against England in a World Cup qualifier in November 1993. Davide Gualtieri's strike is the fastest in international football. England, managed by Graham Taylor, recovered and scored seven, including four from Ian Wright, but still did not qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

"I will never forget that moment," Gualtieri said recently. "I had dreamt about it but I never thought it would happen. It was so hard for us to score against anybody, let alone a team as big as England."

That was a golden period in the history of San Marino's football. They went to the giddy heights of 118 in the Fifa rankings.

San Marino have been coached by Giampaolo Mazza, a physical education teacher, since 1998. His is a thankless task. Last October, when San Marino faced Moldova, just 736 people turned up to watch the game. The state's population is 33,000.

The team is made up of students (five in total), teachers and bank clerks. Mazza worked on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the build-up to the first World Cup qualifying game at Wembley last October. Training had to be held in the evening to accommodate his job. They flew to England on a chartered plane, along with 100 travelling supporters. Wayne Rooney was asked to swap his shorts, as well as the traditional shirt. "That was a first," he said. "It has certainly never happened before."

 

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Theirs is a different world to their opponents. San Marino's nickname is La Serenissima, "The most serene", which feels fairly accurate. They especially need that serenity when they face the Netherlands. San Marino have conceded 36 goals against the Dutch in the six times the sides have faced each other. That, too, is a record.

The two teams will face each other today in the Stadio Olimpico stadium in the district of Serravalle. It holds 7,000 fans and the pitch is part synthetic, part grass. It will also be the fourth time in total the two teams have played each other. England have scored 18 times in the previous three games. That average of six goals per game is their best against any of the 87 different nations they have faced in international football (along with Jamaica).

San Marino have lost their last 50 internationals. Unsurprisingly, their odds to win stand at 125-1.

San Marino: Part-time players

Aldo Simonicini [GK, age: 26, 30 caps] Job: Business consultant

Mirko Palazzi [D, 26, 8] Professional footballer

Fabio Vitaioli [D, 28, 25] Bar owner

Alessandro della Valle [D, 30, 41] Accountant

Davide Simoncini [D, 26, 30] Student

Damiano Vanucci [D, 35, 68] Fitness centre owner

Matteo Vitaioli [M, 23, 24] Professional footballer

Michele Cervellini [M, 24, 16] Student

Enrico Cibelli [M, 25, 8] Barman

Alex Gasperoni [M, 28, 25] Owner of a lighting shop

Andy Selva [S, 36, 57] Professional footballer

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