The national team who have never won a competitive game

By Steve Menary
In the two decades since European minnows Andorra, Faroe Islands and Liechtenstein began taking part in European and World Cup qualifiers, all have won competitive games.

Every team, so it would seem, eventually have their day. All, that is, except San Marino, who are UEFA’s lowliest member. Ranked 202nd by FIFA – which makes them the joint-worst team in the world, along with American Samoa, Anguilla, Cook Islands, Montserrat and Papua New Guinea – San Marino have managed to dodge defeat in just two competitive games since starting out with a 4-0 Euro 92 qualifying defeat against Switzerland.

Their only “successes” have been a 0-0 home draw with Turkey in a 1993 World Cup qualifier and a 1-1 draw in Riga with Latvia in a 2002 World Cup qualifier that cost then-Latvia manager Gary Johnson his job. That campaign saw San Marino score a national record of three goals, but there was no new dawn.

“Our situation and that of Liechtenstein and the other small countries may seem to be similar but it’s not,” sighs Giorgio Crescentini, president of San Marino’s football federation (FSGC). “The legal position is very different from those of other countries in Europe and maybe of the world. In San Marino it’s not possible to naturalise people.

“It’s quite impossible to have the passport of San Marino and so the citizenship. Therefore players from Italy or other countries cannot be naturalized and cannot play for our national team because they won’t ever have the passport.”

San Marino’s only victory on the international stage was a 1-0 friendly win against Liechtenstein in 2004 at the Stadio Olimpico in Serravalle. The goalscorer was Andy Selva, who is the country’s captain, all-time top scorer (with eight goals) and one of only two professionals in the national side.

The 32-year-old has drifted around the lower Italian leagues for the past decade and a half, rarely staying anywhere for more than a couple of seasons. In 2006 he left Padova for his current side Sassulu, who he helped to win promotion from Serie C1 in 2008.

“Internationally, being Sammarinese has helped me a lot because I can play for a national team and I can compete with the strongest players of Europe,” says Selva.

The most-capped Sammarinese player is Damiano Vannucci, who has 50 caps and is an amateur in the San Marino league with Libertas.

The FSGC has 16 member clubs, with 15 playing in the national league. The domestic champions enter the Champions League, but this season Murata were thrashed 9-0 on aggregate by Sweden’s IFK Gothenburg in the first-qualifying round.

The FSGC’s 16th member is San Marino Calcio – the country’s only professional team – for whom national keeper Aldo Simoncini is a reserve. In 2006-07 the club were relegated to Serie C2 of the Italian league.

FSGC president Crescentini remains optimistic for the future of the game in San Marino and says: “We must build in our home the players for the national team. That’s what we’re doing – intensive and strong work with the youth sector, starting from six years ago.”