Footballing fans will know San Marino as the perennial worst team in UEFA. In their 7 World Cup Qualifying campaigns they have only avoided defeat twice and have only found the net 11 times. Having first played in Euro qualifiers ahead of the 1992 tournament, it took them until 2016 to avoid defeat in a game during a campaign. They’ve only ever had one player to win an officially recognized international competition, with Massimo Bonini winning the European Cup and Intercontinental Cup with Juventus in the 80’s. Before this year, the landlocked nation surrounded by footballing giants Italy had only avoided defeat in 5 official games;
- 1994 World Cup Qualifiers: 0-0 at home to Turkey
- 2002 World Cup Qualifiers: 1-1 away to Latvia
- 2003 Friendly: 2-2 away to Liechtenstein
- 2004 Friendly: 1-0 at home to Liechtenstein
- 2016 Euro Qualifiers: 0-0 at home to Estonia
You would be forgiven for having a pessimistic outlook if you were a fan of the San Marino national team.
However the advent of the Nations League not only gave a route to the Euros for traditionally weaker nations, it also gave smaller teams a better chance of getting results due to being pitted against teams of equal quality.
And San Marino took advantage in Nations League D, making history. For the first time they kept a clean sheet away from home in a 0-0 draw in Rheinpark Stadion against Liechtenstein. A month later they would keep their second consecutive competitive clean sheet, this time at home to Gibraltar. Their goalkeeper Elia Benedettini twice ensured they avoided defeat, for the first time in 6 years. This is the first time San Marino had gone unbeaten in two consecutive competitive games, and the first time in a major tournament that they have picked up more than one point. Congratulazioni La Serenissima!
In their World Cup 2022 qualifying group, San Marino will be eyeing up Andorra for another potential positive result. They’ll also be hosting Harry Kane’s England and Robert Lewandowski’s Poland. Hungary and Albania make up the rest of Group I.
Stories like this go to show that success is relative, and football is for everyone. We’ve seen World Class giants such as those playing for the Bayern Munich’s and Liverpool’s carve out success in the past year. In the midst of all the giants San Marino made their own little bit of history.