Saturday 15th November 2014
European Championship Qualifying Group E
Stadio Olimpico, Serravalle, San Marino
San Marino 0-0 Estonia
Oh my! They’ve only gone and done it! After thirteen and a half long years without a competitive point in either World Cup or European Championship qualifying, San Marino secured a stunning 0-0 draw against Estonia. And stunning is the word, with Aldo Simoncini in goal earning the greatest of plaudits for his string of fine saves throughout, but with San Marino managing to provide something of a threat going forwards at times too, albeit an occasional and limited one.
Sadly only 759 lucky souls were in attendance to witness history being made, compared to the 5,700 who attended the 4-0 defeat to Switzerland last month. But those who stayed away missed the gaining of San Marino’s first ever European Championship point coming at the 60th attempt; their only two previous competitive non defeats coming in World Cup qualification. It is also just over a decade since they last tasted anything other than defeat in what is to date their only ever victory; a 1-0 friendly win over Liechtenstein in April 2004.
Estonia, who only last month kept England largely at bay only to lose out 1-0 near the end, struggled to get going in the rainy conditions in Serravalle. It wasn’t until the 28th minute that Simoncini was first called into serious action saving Sergei Zenjov. San Marino saw out the first half on the offensive, forcing a couple of corners and drawing a goal line clearance from Estonian keeper Mihkel Aksalu before Christian Brolli headed wide.
Simoncini’s best save came just before the hour mark, stopping Artjom Artjunin’s header with a fine save, and he also tipped a long range effort round the post as the clock ticked inexorably on. The final minutes saw the surreal experience of the Sammarinese not really knowing if they should commit a few men forwards to try and grab a winner, or pack the defence to ensure they held on to what they had. San Marino did threaten several times in the closing few minutes but also gave up one or two chances too, the last of which saw an Estonian header flash harmlessly wide to great relief from the men in blue.
When the final whistle sounded the San Marino players reacted as though they’d just won the European Championships and World Cup combined instead of secured a 0-0 draw against Estonia. But it was a truly historic moment, and the team to a man descended on the hero of the day, Aldo Simoncini, whose performance between the sticks in securing only his nation’s fourth ever shut out was so crucial to gaining this magnificent point.
San Marino coach Pierangelo Manzaroli was naturally in jubilant mood afterwards, commenting “This result is a reward for the players and it will be an incentive to gain other good results sooner than in 12 years’ time.” The twelve years referring to their last competitive point, actually some thirteen and a half years ago.
Captain Andy Selva also reflected on the past stating, “I remember the win in Liechtenstein but this has a different meaning. I have been waiting for a result like this for 11 years. We are upset about some opportunities we didn’t take. We want to dedicate this result to Federico Crescentini, a former international who died some years ago. We searched for this result for years and now we found it.”
The Estonian coach Magnus Pehrsson was magnanimous in defeat but claimed his side hadn’t fully recovered from a friendly win over Norway three days before, but he retained a sense of humour in spite of his side’s role in San Marino’s joy. “We have made a lot of history in recent days by winning in Norway and now helping San Marino gain a point.”
This of course all means that San Marino will finally rise from the basement of world football when the next FIFA rankings are published on 27th November. A stint that has lasted since April 2008 when the last of San Marino’s meagre ranking points were expunged has come to an end. A 0-0 draw it may have been, but it will come with sufficient points, especially given that it was a European qualifier and against a side in the world’s top 100, to lift San Marino well clear of the bottom. They should remain clear for at least four years even if they don’t gain another point so there will be a glorious farewell coming our way shortly, leaving us with only Bhutan as the one and only worst in the world (at least until Anguilla join them, as would appear likely to happen next summer – more on that soon too).
That’s all for another day though, and San Marino’s stint and ultimate rise will be reflected on in several articles here over the coming weeks and months. For now, let’s just revel in the magnificent achievement of Aldo Simoncini and his fellow Sammarinese boys in blue.
Other group results on match day 4:
England 3-1 Slovenia
Switzerland 4-0 Lithuania
|England||Pl. 4||Pts. 12|