England v San Marino Preview
At university, my flatmate Ross and I conceived a brilliant plan to play in a World Cup match: we’d search the FIFA rankings, choose the lowest team, live there until we’d gained citizenship and then walk onto the team for a qualifier. How hard could it be? Some backwater in the Pacific basin, or better still the Caribbean, would surely jump at the chance to have two Leeds University Intramural League Division Two stalwarts. Then we looked at the rankings table, and saw San Marino propping up the rest alongside American Samoa, Bhutan and Anguila without a single rankings point, and the prospect seemed even more attractive. Afternoons sipping Peroni in the warm sunshine? Trips across the border to watch some Serie A? Maybe even catch the Grand Prix on our doorstep? Thank you very much.
While American Samoa have made huge strides up to 183rd under the tutelage of USA-based Dutch coach Thomas Rongen, documented in the recent film Next Goal Wins, San Marino remain rooted to the foot of the table, still without a ranking point. When your country’s footballing claim to fame is scoring once against England over twenty years ago in a 7-1 thrashing, you have a rather different perspective on what constitutes success. 38-year-old journeyman Andy Selva is still the star turn as the country’s captain and all-time top goalscorer with eight, including their only ever winner ten years ago against Liechtenstein in a friendly, whereas England’s skipper Wayne Rooney rakes in a reported £300,000 a week, and captains his club in front of more than double San Marino’s population every home game.
San Marino Legend Andy Selva: Record Goalscorer, Appearances and Captain
But what do these comparisons prove? Even Andy Townsend could spot that there is a difference in class between Friday night’s teams, so a prediction is a futile exercise. Isn’t it? When these two met two years ago at Wembley, it took the home side over half an hour to find the net as the Sanmarinese resisted with some considerable guts. Gary Johnson quit as Latvia manger after his side were held to a 1-1 draw at home by San Marino in a World Cup qualifier; two years later, the Latvians made it to Euro 2004, where they drew with current world champions Germany. So despite the ‘hilarious’ scorelines that they have on their record, there is some pedigree in their history, even if you do need to look hard to find it.
Roy Hodgson will surely give some game time to some youngsters, especially after arguably the toughest test of this campaign already successfully negotiated against his former employers Switzerland. Calum Chambers has been drafted into the squad to replace the injured John Stones, and Nathaniel Clyne has impressed in Southampton’s unexpected rise up the Premier League table, so those former club-mates should start. After his gaffe about his captain’s accent and his subsequent support over his temperament, not to mention his domestic suspension, Hodgson will probably look to Rooney to lead the line and gain some positive headlines with a goal or two. Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph have been in superb form, and should offer an energetic double pivot behind a young attacking three of Welbeck, Shelvey and Lallana, all all of whom have a point to prove.
Andy Selva will most likely lead the line in front of a packed midfield to offer a calm head when the goals inevitably pour in. Argentine-born José Adolfo Hirsch will be the first port of call when Selva tires of chasing lost causes on his own. With a relatively inexperienced squad, Alex Gasperoni will have to control matters in the middle for the vistors, and his sporadic experience of Europa League qualifiers with San Marino powerhouses Tre Penne might help calm the nerves of the more wide-eyed squad players. Allesandro Della Valle is a veteran of previous England qualifiers, and is the scorer of the only competitive goal in the last five years, so will look to cause a threat at set pieces. Aldo Simoncini will be the man entrusted to pick the ball out of the net as little as possible, but his positional sense last time at Wembley doesn’t inspire confidence in his ability to hold out for long.
Match Lineups (Updated Now)
England: Hart, Chambers, Cahill, Jagielka, Gibbs, Henderson, Milner, Wilshere, Welbeck, Rooney, Sterling.
Subs: Foster, Clyne, Baines, Delph, Shelvey, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Townsend, Lambert, Forster.
San Marino: Simoncini, Palazzi, Fabio Vitaioli, Della Valle, Brolli, Battistini, Hirsch, Tosi, Chiaruzzi, Matteo Vitaioli, Selva.
Subs: Benedettini, Cervellini, Stefanelli,
Lorenzo Gasperoni, Golinucci, Buscarini, Alex Gasperoni, Valentini, Mazza, Muraccini.
Referee: Marcin Borski (Poland)
These games have been labelled as pointless in some quarters, but that would be to miss the point of qualifiers altogether: this is not the finals, when one expects the finest countries to consistently offer more engaging battles, but a chance for San Marino to gain some big match experience and for England to test out some new combinations and give some youngsters a relatively stress-free but still competitive run out. It is churlish and pompous to suggest that San Marino don’t deserve the take part in occasions such as these – how else can they develop if they don’t compete against the rest of Europe? It was less than 30 years ago that England strolled to an 8-0 win away in Turkey, a trip from which a point would be welcome nowadays. For some of these players, it is a chance to promote their club careers, and possibly claim a moment that will stay with them forever.
England to win comfortably with a Wayne Rooney hattrick to equal Jimmy Greaves’ 44 England goals.