San Marino’s new-look young side had a somewhat chastening experience in World Cup Qualifying. But they had shown plenty of promise and there were several exciting youngsters establishing themselves in the national team.
The latest of those were three players who came through the San Marino Academia side we’d created in the database. They were striker Mattia Casadei, who signed for Empoli for £240k, defender Marco Ercolani and midfielder Lorenzo Casadei. And, with the great youth players coming through the academy, the club won Italian Serie C/B to gain promotion to Serie B, which is really exciting news in terms of growing the nation.
The national squad now had 12 players with 5-star potential and four more with 4.5-star potential, plus plenty more in the Under 21s and Under 18s. However, several players had mooted the possibility of choosing Italy over San Marino, which was a little bit worrying – especially as one of them had already earned 11 caps for San Marino!
2022 began with a friendly in Malta in March with Selva trialling a new asymmetric 4-4-2 formation he’d concocted. It performed well in the first half as San Marino led 2-1 thanks to first goals from midfielder Nicola Pasolini and winger Manuel Berardi. And they kicked on after the break as main man Davide San Marino scored before Berardi doubled his tally. What a performance, but can they take it into competitive fixtures?
Nations League Division C
San Marino’s promotion from the bottom tier of the Nations League saw them drawn in a group with Finland, Lithuania and Slovenia in Division C. It began in June 2022, which ended a seven month period without a competitive game.
The new division began at home to Slovenia, which was hampered by M Casadei getting injured. But his replacement Fabio Zafferani – who had zero goals in 15 league games – scored his first-ever goals to inspire the greatest result in Sammarinese history. Davide San Marino scored early, then Zafferani bagged a brace either side of Slovenia getting back into the game in the final minute of the first half. And Berardi scored a delicious chip late on to wrap a massive 4-1 win. San Marino 4-1 Slovenia!
That gave San Marino confidence for a trip to Lithuania, where they had a more familiar hero. That man Davide San Marino took advantage of some suspect defending to bag a superb perfect hat-trick, of which two were scored in the last eight minutes, to inspire a 3-0 away win. That took San Marino to six successive Nations League wins, which is apparently a new competition record.
Those big wins saw San Marino surge eight places up the FIFA world rankings to 187th, a rise of nearly 30 places over the last two years. They kept up their unbeaten streak with an unlikely 0-0 draw in Finland despite left-winger Paulo Selva getting sent off after 29 minutes. Finland had 23 shots but impressive goalkeeper Thomas Vannucci once again played a blinder with a 7.8. There was no such luck in Slovenia, who scored twice early on but only won 2-0, which kept San Marino top of the table with two home games remaining.
San Marino went into those final two games with 16 teenagers in the 23-man squad. But preparation wasn’t helped by starting centre-back Elia Baldacci deciding to represent Italy instead, which was pretty frustrating. They also had a mass of suspensions heading into the first game against Finland, including star man Davide San Marino. It wasn’t looking good when Finland scored a direct free-kick after an hour but Manuel Forcellini came off the bench to grab an equaliser, his first San Marino goal and a hard-earned point.
The group concluded at home to Lithuania. San Marino came out flying and made early pressure count with a delicious long-range strike from P Selva, a Davide San Marino tap-in for his 20th goal and a first goal for centre-back Ercolani putting them 3-0 up inside 23 minutes! Lithuania got one back just before half-time and played well after it but found Vannucci in excellent form again, ensuring a 3-1 success.
Slovenia also won their final game in Finland, which meant San Marino finished second in the Nations League Division C group. That definitely portrays improvement, given San Marino has actually been able to win competitive matches!
However, two more central defenders Ercolani and Andrea Berti and striker M Casadei immediately decided to represent Italy over San Marino having already represented the latter multiple times. Which just seems wrong and unfair.
Without that trio, San Marino took part in two pre-World Cup friendlies. First, Davide San Marino scored a gorgeous chip to open the scoring in North Macedonia, who took until the 87th minute to equalise. But that was a great draw for the massive underdogs. Forcellini missed two huge chances early in Montenegro and the hosts made him pay as Davide San Marino scored a consolation in a 3-1 defeat.
The World Cup saw Brazil and Holland knocked out in the group stage then Belgium and Portugal knocked out in the second round by France and Poland. More upsets followed in the quarter finals as Turkey beat Argentina and USA beat Italy on penalties, while France beat England 3-2 and Spain beat Poland after extra-time. There were no shocks in the semis as France beat Turkey 1-0 and Spain beat USA 3-1.
Selva bagged himself a VIP ticket to the World Cup Final, in which Kylian Mbappé ran riot with two counter-attack goals inside 24 minutes. And France won 2-0 to defend their World Champions crown.
Join us next time to discover if Andy Selva can gain further improvement from his San Marino side as he leads them into European Championship Qualifying.