There has recently been a lot of criticism against San Marino due to their lack of competitiveness, especially in the aftermath of their 8-0 defeat to England. They are tied for 207th place with Bhutan and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the last place in the Fifa world rankings .
Yet San Marino, undoubtedly minnows, is a country, recognised by the United Nations. Surely they have as big a right as any to attempt to qualify for a major tournament. The argument put forward that their population is too small is ridiculous, they are still a country no matter how big or small their population is.
The vast majority of players in San Marino’s brief history have been, or are, part time, usually being plumbers or waiters in their day jobs. There is currently only one professional player, Mirko Palazzi, who plays in Serie D with Rimini Calcio. His career highlight was a brace in the 2010/2011 Europa League and he has also played in the Italian third division Serie C. Imagine just an ordinary individual who is very average at football being able to play against some of the great European footballers. You are an electrician and are called up for your country, a proud moment in itself, to face the greatest players on the planet. That in itself is a reason why San Marino should continue to play.
The euphoria that even scoring a goal generates for the players is brilliant to watch. They celebrate like they have won the world cup they will almost definitely never qualify for. But that is fine, they are having fun and they still try 100%, they just don’t have the skill. The sheer joy on players faces when they beat Lichtenstein, another set of minnows, 1-0 in a friendly, was very touching. They also managed to pull of a 0-0 draw against Turkey in 1993 in the World Cup qualification process. This is a monumental feat considering Turkey are a big footballing nation compared to San Marino.
The rivalries between the minnows is always an exciting thing, with an unofficial game between the Vatican City and San Marino in 2006 ending in a 0-0 draw. San Marino can also compete better with fellow minnows, providing more interesting games for them and the viewer.
One of the proudest moments in the footballing history of San Marino has to be the 8.3 second goal, a record at the time, from Davide Gualtieri against the founders of football England. The celebrations (above) are so touching and reminds us all the true meaning of football. England, giants of the game, conceding against San Marino and have a record set against them. Brilliant. “I still laugh about it now. I remember the surprise on everybody’s face. Nobody believed San Marino could score against mighty England, certainly not after eight seconds. When I see the goal now, I still wonder how we managed to score straight from the kick-off against one of the biggest teams in football. We are just a little country of 30,000 people. It is very hard for us to find big athletes or win Olympic medals. For us, it is a dream just to be on the same field as England. To score such a famous goal is unthinkable – it is like winning the World Cup.” Davide Gualtieri really sums up why San Marino should still be allowed to participate with the big teams and backs up my points. They should not have to go through a preliminary qualifying round.
If a team does draw San Marino they should treat it as a nice draw, not a farce of football. San Marino have every right to play as any other country, no matter how small they are. People should stop calling for their removal from the qualifying stages. Football shouldn’t be elitist, as long as a country meets the required parameters they should be allowed to participate. After all, imagine if it was you playing against Xavi, Iniesta or Ronaldo after cleaning some toilets! Don’t attack the underdog, support the underdog.