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European football is littered with nations who have little hope of success at the World Cup. But while England do at least qualify, it remains an impossible dream for San Marino.
While only the most devoted of Three Lions fanatics can recall the details of England’s countless walkover victories against the likes of Andorra, Malta and Moldova, one particular World Cup qualifier versus the minnows of San Marino will never be forgotten.
World Cup Qualifier – England v San Marino
Thursday, March 25: 7.45pm
In 1993, England had to beat them by seven goals to have any hope of reaching the finals in the USA the following summer. But computer salesman Davide Gualtieri scored after just eight seconds – the fastest goal in World Cup history – to leave Graham Taylor’s side with an uphill task.
Needless to say, England scored the seven goals they originally needed, but the Netherlands’ win in Poland meant Taylor’s side could have scored 20 and it would’ve been academic. But enough of the history lesson. Is there any chance that the visitors can offer even a sliver of resistance on Thursday evening?
When a football team’s Wikipedia page contains a section titled ‘List of matches not lost by San Marino’, you can be confident that they aren’t going to offer much of a threat. A glance across their results only highlights this further.
Franco Varrella has been in charge for their last 22 matches, and San Marino have scored in just one of them. Even then, they only found the net after they were already 3-0 down at home to Kazakhstan. Very nice.
You have to go back almost 17 years to find the last match in which they both scored and avoided defeat. The UEFA Nations League was supposed to help the smaller nations enjoy some success by playing more games against teams of a similar standard, but San Marino have only mustered two draws – both of which were 0-0 – and eight defeats from their 10 games in that competition.
England’s goal difference average of six per game against the microstate from Italy is their best against any team, and they’ve never won by fewer than five goals, so let’s go for a 6-0 win here.
But as much as they’ve always won by a healthy margin, England have only been more than two goals clear of San Marino at half time in one of the six meetings. Eight years ago, Roy Hodgson’s side were 5-0 up at the break and added a further three in the second half to record their biggest win since 1987.
Other than that it has tended to be 2-0 when the half time oranges are handed out (or 3-1 thanks to Gualtieri).
A lot will depend on how Gareth Southgate chooses to play his cards in this match. With this the first of three fixtures to fulfil in just six days, and there being little incentive for England to rack up a cricket score – as they should canter through qualification – the waistcoated one will probably hold back some of his first-choice stars.
It may take a while for an unfamiliar line-up to start generating plenty of chances together, so it seems reasonable to expect no more than three goals in the first half of the match.
It also seems likely that once the game is won Southgate will ring the changes from the bench. He needs to keep his squad fresh with one eye on the quick turnaround they face before playing Albania and Poland. This disruption to a likely weakened team will reduce their chance of scoring a ton of goals. The odds in the Over/Under goal market at the time of writing suggests Paddy believes that seven is the most likely number of total goals, but history suggests there will be fewer.
In 49 matches under their current manager, England have only scored six-or-more three times, and we can rule out a Gualtieri repeat. No matter how weak the visiting side is, a Three Lions team with little experience of playing together is unlikely to hit more than six, so take under the under 6.5 goals bet.