DAN Marino – there’s no problem with him
I watched Friday’s football match with mixed emotions. Yes, it’s always good to see England win, especially when they play well. However, the 8-0 victory was marred by not only the awful England supporters’ band but also feeling bad for handing such a drubbing to a team of amateurs.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that the best way for teams (and in this case a nation) to improve is to play superior opposition. On Friday, the commentators kept referring to a game against Turkey in 1987 that England had also won by eight goals to nil. 15 years later, Turkey were finishing third in the World Cup.
Of course, Turkey and San Marino are completely different. Turkey are a huge nation and it was only a matter of time and organisation before they found a pool of talented players. San Marino are obviously much smaller and so their initial player pool is smaller. Also, with it technically being part of Italy, if they did uncover an amazing player would he really opt to play for them rather than the azzuri?
It’s now over 50 games since San Marino last scored an international goal and they’ve lost all of those subsequent games. While exposure to better teams should lead to improvement, there is a clear lack of development there.
A lot of people have suggested pre-qualifying for teams like San Marino, Andorra and the Faeroe Islands and I can’t help but think that this would be a good idea. Not only would there be an improvement in results as they are no longer so outmatched but hopefully there would also be an improvement in the quality of football as they would not longer keep 10 men behind the ball and try to limit the damage.
However, if the 10 lowest ranked teams are all put together in a pre-qualifying process then UEFA/FIFA must make assurances to those teams that they will still get friendly games, ideally against teams who are in the world’s top 50/100. I think that cricket offers the best example of something like this. The smaller nations get to regularly play against each other and then we see England play games against Ireland and Scotland annually.
Obviously, it’s always going to be tough to compete with a team of semi-pros but it must be an amazing feeling for the players to go back to work on Monday having played against players like Rooney and Lampard. While it feels really harsh to be taking away opportunities like this away from players in the future, it’s surely better for the development of the game in San Marino.
Having said that, I do feel a bit like Gideon Osbourne; cuts for the weakest, making out it’s for their own good while it’s actually for the good of the strongest. And there’s no doubt about it, not having to play the likes of San Marino would be better for England; fewer internationals would, in theory, mean fresher players. However, that honestly wasn’t part of my thinking. Just imagine how good the players would feel if they actually won an international for their country. Who knows, they might even get through pre-qualifying and get to play England anyway…