Students, bank clerks and barmen… meet the everyday San Marino players ready to take on England
11:37 GMT, 10 October 2012
If it were possible to transport them all, every man,
woman and child from the tiny enclave of San Marino could be seated quite
comfortably in the upper tier at Wembley Stadium on Friday night.
But even though they can’t be there in person, the vast
majority will be glued to television screens as their national football team
goes toe-to-toe with another world superpower in England.
As has become familiar, the state’s 33,000 inhabitants
will watch their side of students, teachers and bank clerks take on eleven
professionals of towering global status.
Best foot forward: San Marino's Alex Gasperoni (right) gets stuck in against Germany
While Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and company became
accustomed to the shiny new 100m St George’s Park training complex this week
and rubbed shoulders with royalty, the Sammarinese players have managed to squeeze
in a couple of hours’ practice late in the evening.
Before that, they have been required to turn up for work
as usual. While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spoke to Prince William from the plush
jacuzzi at St George’s, his opposite number on Friday Enrico Cibelli was busy
pulling pints and brewing coffee in his local bar.
While England’s captain Steven Gerrard was trying out the
state-of-the-art equipment in the various gyms at Burton, his counterpart
Damiano Vannucci at least had the satisfaction of knowing he owned his own.
National skipper: Damiano Vannucci will lead San Marino against England on Friday
And as Roy Hodgson arranged his tactics board and marker
pens to deliver a lecture on how to overcome San Marino’s resistance, the man
plotting to beat him, Giampaolo Mazza, was overseeing a lesson of a different
kind in his job as a school PE teacher.
Five of the squad are students – imagine combining
playing for your country at Wembley with the weekly routine of study, essays
A world away from the lifestyles of the England team, the
San Marino players have had to seek time off from their employers to travel
over to London.
They will fly out from Rimini on Thursday on a chartered flight
shared with one hundred fans having completed their last day at work on
The Gaffer: San Marino have been managed by Giampaolo Mazza for 14 years
Coach Mazza told The Sun: ‘We all have jobs and that is a
big difference compared to all the other nations we play against.
‘In this next week, I must work on Monday, Tuesday and
Wednesday. We will have training each evening.
‘Whenever we play an international match, my students
always ask for the football shirts of the opposing players.’
There will be one almighty scramble in the classroom on
Monday morning when Mazza returns with the shirts of Rooney, Gerrard and Frank
Mazza added: ‘Maybe 100 supporters will be on the plane
with us but we hope there will be up to 2,000 at Wembley. We also know Scottish
and Welsh fans will all be cheering for us!
‘It is a tremendous achievement for San Marino to be
playing football. The population is just 33,000 meaning every single person
from San Marino could go to Wembley and two thirds of the stadium would still
‘To play at Wembley will be amazing. I remember the match
in 1993 when we scored after 8.3 seconds.’
Ah, yes. The moment that carved San Marino in the memory
of many English football fans. Stuart Pearce’s underhit back pass that allowed
winger Davide Gualtieri to score the fastest goal in World Cup history.
A HISTORY OF HEAVY BEATINGS
San Marino played their first international match in November 1990, losing 4-0 at home to Switzerland in a qualifier for Euro 1992.Since then, they have won just one match – a friendly against Liechtenstein in April 2004 when Andy Selva scored the only goal. San Marino have scored 18 goals in their international history, with Selva scoring eight of them.There have been some very heavy defeats along the way – including 13-0 against Germany in September 2006 and 11-0 to Holland in September 2011.
England went on to win the game, played in Bologna, 7-1
but failed to qualify for the World Cup finals in 1994 through a combination of
results elsewhere and their own inadequacies in the qualifying matches up to
that point. It meant the end for Graham Taylor as manager.
That moment ranks among the greatest in the nation’s
footballing – if not the nation’s – history if only because the rest of it has
been a succession of heavy beatings.
They have won one match – by a single goal in a friendly against
Liechtenstein in 2004 – and have picked up just two points in their history of
qualification matches. There have been just 18 goals to celebrate in the team’s
20 year existence.
San Marino have been as ‘high’ as 118 in the FIFA World
Rankings, but are now rock bottom – joint 207th with Bhutan and the Turks &
Caicos Islands. What could possibly go wrong for England
A dark night for England in November 1993 as they fall behind to San Marino after 8 secs
Front man: Manuel Marani in action against Finland during the qualification campaign for Euro 2012
But Mazza is right, it is remarkable that such a small
nation, tucked away high in the Apennine Mountains and totally surrounded by
Italy, should be able to field not only a national side but also stage a
15-team national championship.
There is also a team, San Marino Calcio, who play in the
third tier of Italian football, Serie C1.
And while many England players have been accused in the
past of putting club before country, the San Marino stars consider it a
Midfielder Alex Gasperoni, who has 27 caps, told The Sun:
‘It is an honour to play for my country but mentally, it is very tough to lose
so many matches.
‘But our team will go to England and give 100 per cent. I
can assure you of that.’
No respecter of reputation: Alex Gasperoni tackles Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Cibelli, 25, said: ‘It will be an honour to play against
England. The big difference is that they are all top professionals and among
the best in the world.
‘We all have to have normal jobs. I have been a barman
for three years. I serve coffee, drinks, sandwiches and anti-pasti.
‘I normally finish work at 8pm and then I go to training
after that. It is very tiring.’
England will have to make sure this group of bar workers, electricians and accountants don't return to work on Monday as national heroes.
THE SAN MARINO SQUAD IN FULL AND WHAT THEY DO ALL DAY
(name, age, club – occupation)
Mattia Manzaroli, 21, San Giovanni – Office worker
Aldo Simoncini, 26, A.C. Libertas – Accountant
Federico Valentini, 30, S.P. Tre Penne – Bank clerk
Familiar feeling: Aldo Simoncini is beaten by Wesley Sneijder in an 11-0 defeat to Holland in the Euro 2012 qualification campaign
Simone Bacciocchi, 35, Sporting Novafeltria – Hospital office worker
Gianluca Bollini, 32, Sporting NovaValmarecchia – Owns a removal company with his brother Fabio, who plays in midfield
Cristian Brolli, 20 – Student
Alessandro Della Valle, 30, Scot Due Emme – Bank clerk
Marco Muraccini, 21 – Student
Mirko Palazzi, 25 – Professional footballer with Rimini Calcio
Davide Simoncini, 26, Santa Giustina – Accountant
Damiano Vannucci, 35, La Fiorita – Gym owner
Fabio Vitaioli, 28, S.S. Murata – Owns a bar with his brother Matteo, who plays in midfield
Fabio Bollini, 29, S.S. Murata – Runs a removal firm with his brother Gianluca
Lorenzo Buscarini, 21, Cailungo – Student
Michele Cervellini, 24, Juvenes Dogana – Student
Enrico Cibelli, 25 – Barman
Matteo Coppini, 23, Atletico Montecchio – Works for an olive oil company
Alex Gasperoni, 28, S.P. Tre Penne – Owns a company which fits lighting in farm buildings
Pier Filippo Mazza, 24, Sant'Ermete Calcio – Student
Marco Rosti, 23, S.P. Tre Penne – Student
Matteo Vitaioli, 22, San Marino Calcio – Owns a bar with his brother Fabio
Alessandro Bianchi, 23, Folgore/Falciano – Shop worker
Manuel Marani, 28, U.S. Russi – Works for a soft drinks company
Danilo Rinaldi, 26 – Works for a furniture company