World Cup Qualifier
Stadio Olimpico, Serravalle, San Marino (Att. 1,268)
San Marino 0-8 Ukraine
Well at least it wasn’t nine again. That’s about all I can say about that. What was nine however, was the number of players San Marino had left on the pitch by the end – red cards for Mirko Palazzi and Alessandro Della Valle.
Both of those players also gave away penalties, Della Valle in the first half to allow Ukraine to open the scoring after 13 minutes, and Palazzi in the second, for which he earned his marching orders with over half an hour still to go. Della Valle’s red card came in the final minute for a second yellow in the aftermath of Ukraine’s 8th goal.
Marko Devic scored a hat-trick for Ukraine, but the win still wasn’t enough for Ukraine to take the top spot in the group and automatic qualification, thanks to England’s 2-0 win over Poland, but they head into the play offs with plenty of shooting practice under their belts.
As for San Marino, they of course showed only glimpses of endeavour. On one occasion having gone a goal behind they did send several players up field for an attacking free kick. What happened? Ukraine cleared the free kick, broke quickly into the sparsely populated San Marino half and promptly scored their second, while the San Marino defence tried to hurry back and re-organise.
Even when they try and score it just results in another goal against.
So the end of another campaign sees San Marino with another 10 straight defeats to their name, and a minus 53 goal difference to boot. They did of course manage one goal against Poland recently, but other than that it was a total blank all round.
Where do they go from here? Well the facile answer is that they go into a European Championship qualifying campaign and do it all over again. But more than that, surely they need some other focus for their footballing ambitions? Being humped on a regular basis can’t be fun. What is to be lost by some of Europe’s true minnows arranging a few friendly fixtures against each other to at least have the opportunity to play some more attacking football once in a while? And perhaps there would even be the chance of a victory every now and then. Otherwise, just what is the point?
I’m not saying this trying to suggest that San Marino shouldn’t be taking part. Quite the opposite in fact. They, and all other nations, should be encouraged to compete as best they can in World Cup and European Championships alike. But in addition to that an opportunity to try and win a few other games might be a worthwhile exercise, not only for trying to climb off the foot of the world rankings.
San Marino face difficulties that our other basement boys, Bhutan and Turks & Caicos Islands, don’t have, namely never competitively facing opposition that is not far above their standard and therefore potentially beatable. They will always be in a different group from all other minnows and facing far bigger teams. Defeat will follow defeat.
Similarly tiny Gibraltar will be on the UEFA scene shortly. Surely a challenge match between San Marino and Gibraltar is the stuff of dreams for champions of the underdog? I can only dream.
Final Group H Standings: