Can San Marino continue to improve after latest heroics?
Background image: Biello di Biella, CC BY-SA 3.0
Beneath the glare of the floodlights, the charging winger latched onto the through pass, rounded the keeper and prodded the ball home home. Mobbed by his teammates, the goal scorer roared with triumph.
The casual observer may assume, based on the enthusiasm of the celebrating players and small crowd, that this goal sent a team into some major tournament final, or earned a crucial victory over fierce rivals. In fact, this was a mere consolation goal, scored in a 3-1 defeat to Kazakhstan. While it’s probably the first recorded instance of anyone becoming ecstatic about scoring against the Kazakhs, this goal’s significance was far greater. It was the first home goal in six years for everyone’s favourite European microstate (unless you’re one of those disgusting Liechtenstein enthusiasts) San Marino.
Mirth wasn’t entirely confined to the stadium, or even the tiny, land-locked principality. Social media was abuzz, with jokes, incredulous reactions and general warm feelings bouncing around for the minnows who languished in the depths of the European rankings for as long as they’ve existed; with only a single win in their history...
While it’s funny to watch San Marino celebrate a meaningless goal against an obscure nation as if it’s a World Cup win, the strike represents a key milestone in their improvement. The nation’s footballers are steadily trending upwards, but oh-so-slowly, though you might need a microscope to see it clearly.
The seeds of growth were sown years ago, but perhaps the first green shoots of competency emerged in July 2018, when top-flight San Marinese outfit Tre Fiori became the first club from the nation to ever advance in a European tie, triumphing 3-1 over the Welsh Premier League’s Bala Town. Okay, a Welsh village outfit getting pumped in Europa League qualifying is hardly a game-changer. But Bala included numerous ex-pros in their squad, including ex Swansea centre-back Stuart J Jones and former Wrexham and Fleetwood ace Andy Mangan. Tre Fiore’s squad included numerous San Marino internationals and showed that, while real quality may be a long way off, the concept of winning isn’t complete anathema to the nation.
Winger Filippo Beradi, scorer of that much-celebrated goal against Kazakhstan is a promising player, a good example of the sort of talent San Marino can produce. 22 years old and plying his trade at Serie C outfit Vibonese, he spent four years on the books with Italian top flight outfit Torino. With Beradi and a handful of fellow Italian based youngsters, like 19-year-old striker Nicola Nanni, contracted to Serie B’s Crotone, San Marino have, if not a solid core, at least the occasional flashes of potential. Players the nation can be proud of, with modest technical ability, honed by competent coaches at well-funded clubs.
San Marino are never going to be a big nation. However much they improve, the World Cup will be forever beyond their means, unless FIFA gets really carried away with expanding it. The country population is 33,000. For reference, that’s fewer people than live in the UK metropolises of Salisbury or Falkirk. But as noted maniac Frankie Fraser might’ve said, that’s no excuse. Just look at Gibraltar. Their population is even smaller, and while some would argue the Rock’s connections to England and Spain means it has a larger pool of players to choose from, but even with a largely domestically based squad, they ground out results against the likes of Slovakia and Latvia. San Marino pulling off similar results seems a world away but it is possible.
Things may look hopeless for San Marino. Scoring is one thing but winning is another. Still, if they keep promoting youth, playing football the right way and taking the game to the opposition, it’s only a matter of time before them scoring a goal doesn’t result in the internet going up in flames.