What do we at EKSTRAKLASAreview know about Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifying opponents San Marino? Not a lot, I can tell you that. That’s why we have drafted in someone who does know – editor of the fantastic Non-FIFA Football blog, Edward Stubbs – to tell us about the side from the tiny Italian-surrounded Republic.
San Marino travel to Warsaw at arguably at their lowest point since joining FIFA. Even by their standards the Sammarinese are currently going through a desperate drought in front of goal – another zero scored on Friday extended their record run of competitive games without finding the back of the net to 23, their last qualification strike coming 5 years ago.
They were 18 minutes from a historic draw at home to Moldova in October before conceding twice but this World Cup campaign has been on the whole familiar, with 8-0 and 6-0 defeats to England and Montenegro respectively typical of their failure to maintain belief when they go behind. The side ranked joint last by FIFA did however hold the English for 35 minutes until a penalty opened the floodgates at Wembley and last August they scored twice against Malta in a friendly, the first time they’d netted more than once in a game for a decade and they have lost 51 games in succession.
As usual the tiny republic’s aim will be to keep the score down and surprisingly their past record against Poland is not as bad as it is against many other sides. Overlooking a 10-0 thumping the last time the teams met in 2010 World Cup qualification San Marino have ‘only’ conceded 13 goals in 5 games against the Poles, with a couple of 2-0 defeats notable. Aldo Simoncini will be as important as ever in goal with the A.C. Libertas player’s genuinely fine shot-stopping skills often keeping Sammarinese scores down. Indeed he was part of the Cesena squad that suffered Serie A relegation in 2012 and his experience is important in a fragile defence.
Mirko Palazzi will be part of that backline and he is something of a rarity, a professional San Marino footballer. His time at Italian 4th-tier Rimini has improved his game and experienced vice-captain Alessandro Della Valle will likely join him at the back. The defenders work is important mainly because, as noted against their home tie with Montenegro and match at Wembley, as soon as the first goal is conceded the belief is fully extinguished and, sadly, a degree of effort goes with it.
Distribution from defence through midfield to attack is notably poor. As the clock ticked down against Moldova at 0-0 the ball more and more frequently was simply booted into touch and panic set in, ultimately resulting in a penalty conceded. Tre Penne man Alex Gasperoni is an experienced midfielder and it’s important that he focuses on ball retention, though he may well drop into centre back, and Matteo Vitaioli will need to offer his right-back more support than was shown against England on Friday. 36-year old record-scorer Andy Selva is again in the squad after his brief international retirement in 2012 but despite leading the line against England the veteran could well start on the bench, with Danilo Rinaldi potentially heading the attack.
For San Marino improvement and lessons learnt is the short-term aim of qualification campaigns, with narrow defeats or a goal scored a bonus. Bridging the gap between themselves and the more successful minnows is the long term aim and Poland should have few problems breaking down the Sammarinese. Should they score early, their goal difference could take a boost.
Aldo Simoncini (Libertas) – Mirko Palazzi (Rimini [Italy]), Fabio Vitaioli (Murata), Alex Gasperoni (Tre Penne), Alessandro Della Valle (Folgore Falciano), Davide Simoncini (Libertas) – Matteo Vitaioli (San Marino Calcio [Italy]), Fabio Bollini (Murata), Michele Cervellini (Juvenes/Dogana), Enrico Cibelli (Tre Penne) – Danilo Rinaldi (La Fiorita).
Edward Stubbs is the editor of Non-FIFA Football, a fantastic blog focusing on the tiny republics, regions and islands which fall outside of FIFA’s jurisdiction. You can also follow the blog on Twitter.