Improving the World’s Worst National Team | Part 5: A Surprising Euros Qualifying

Can you improve the world’s worst national team with a better youth rating and youth recruitment and a star teenage striker? The answer appeared to be yes, as Andy Selva had used those factors to lead San Marino to the 182nd best team in the world.

The manager’s performance was recognised by being offered opportunities to manage Albania, Israel and, most temptingly, Uruguay. The only problem was that some of his best young players were less loyal and kept abdicating to Italy. Additionally, backup goalkeeper Edoardo Colombo decided to retire from football at the age of 22, three days before a match!

An indication of the nation’s improvement was being listed as fourth seeds for the European Championship Qualifying groups. That saw them drawn in an interesting group alongside Spain, Ukraine, Albania, Malta and Faroe Islands.

Euro 2024 Qualifying round 1

The qualification process began with a tough task away to Ukraine. San Marino played solidly but got screwed over by a dodgy penalty at the end of the first half, which eventually led to a 3-0 loss.

Next was a home game against Albania, in which they got off to a flyer with a brace from Davide San Marino – who’s now become known as a Wonderkid – inside 13 minutes. Albania got on top and got a goal back but DSM completed his hat-trick in injury-time then added a fourth just before the hour. It was another impressive performance from the striker and San Marino as a whole as they thumped Albania 4-1.

Euro 2024 Qualifying round 2

The next round of games began with another important home game against Malta. They again started well with a stunner from right-winger Manuel Berardi then DSM took over with a brace early in the second half and wrapped up another four-goal haul late on to seal a 5-0 win. This kid has become absolutely brilliant and now has 30 goals in 28 caps for San Marino! But can he break into the Inter Milan first team?

Things got much more difficult with Selva’s toughest challenge yet – away to World Cup finalists Spain. The Spaniards took an early lead through an own goal but that man DSM showed his class to nick an equaliser but Alvaro Morata scored a total fluke just before the break. Spain added three more late goals but there was plenty of promise in the performance, considering their first two goals were flukes.

Striker Fabio Zafferani, who now plays for Udinese, decided to switch to Italy in the summer of 2023 as Selva’s options depleted further. Regardless, they did climb again to 172nd in the FIFA world rankings.

Euro 2024 Qualifying round 3

The next round of games began with a battering at home to Ukraine, who scored with their first shot and had 15 shots in the first half. A late header from centre-back Marco Zanotti got San Marino a consolation in a 3-1 defeat.

A bit of a classic was served up next at home to Faroe Islands, who scored after 39 seconds. But San Marino rallied with goals from Berardi and Paulo Selva before the break. The Faroes got a dubious penalty to equalise, but straight from the kick-off DSM walked through their defence to smash home and restore the lead. The striker added a late second to seal the result and push San Marino up to third in the group.

Euro 2024 Qualifying round 4

That win teed up an important trip to fourth-place Albania. DSM missed two huge chances early on but eventually took one after 35 minutes then raced through to double the lead on the verge of half-time, with both created by his strike partner Francesco Casali. Nothing happened after the break and a 2-0 win moved San Marino five points clear of Albania. That man DSM now has 35 goals in 32 caps at the age of 18, which is just ridiculous! He’s also gone on loan to Parma and started six games in Serie A.

Frustratingly, Ukraine got a draw out of Spain, which made an unlikely qualification almost impossible with a four point gap to Ukraine with three games remaining. And up next, was Spain at home. Could San Marino pull off the biggest upset in international football history?

Well… kind of. Spain dominated the game but only by 16 shots to 10. And San Marino even had two great chances early on but were twice denied by David De Gea. The good news was that Thomas Vannucci did the same, denying Ansu Fati on several occasions. And when Morata was denied by an offside decision late on, Spain ran out of puff and it ended in the best 0-0 of all time. San Marino 0-0 Spain!!

Euro 2024 Qualifying round 5

Those great results saw San Marino shoot up to 163rd in the world rankings ahead of two away games against the bottom two sides to finish the group.

First up were whipping boys Malta, who’d only scored once and conceded 29 in eight games. And that showed in a dominant start for San Marino. DSM kept his hot form going by scoring inside two minutes followed by a Casali brace inside 21 minutes, which doubled his tally from his previous 16 caps. Malta got a goal back but DSM doubled his tally with a gorgeous chip on 40 minutes.

Casali wrapped up his first career hat-trick after the break before adding his fourth inside an hour! Then an exciting moment saw 17-year-old left-winger Mauro Valentini came off the bench to score his first goal on his second cap. That wrapped up the biggest win in Sammarinese history: Malta 1-7 San Marino!! Casali, by the way, only scored four goals in 31 games for Catanzaro all of last season!

They rounded the group off in the Faroe Islands, where they wasted an incredible 27 shots before two late goals. Another 17-year-old striker Nicola Mularoni scored his first international goal and Valentini added a second.

That ensured San Marino finished the group comfortably in third place, six points back from Ukraine in second and seven behind group winners Spain. They won six out of ten games with three defeats, and scored 26 and conceded 15. Their only draw of the group was against Spain, which was a ridiculous result!

DSM finished qualifying as the top scorer in the competiton with 15 goals. That was five more than Anthony Martial and Hannes Wolf and six more than Romelu Lukaku, Erling Haaland and Rafael Leao.

San Marino’s performance in the group moved them a further 10 places up the rankings to 153rd in the world – up more than 50 since the start of this experiment – heading into 2024. And, for the first time, he managed to convince a player to choose San Marino ahead of Italy, which saw 19-year-old Bari striker Daniele Zavoli join the international fold at the end of the year.

On top of the great results, the future is looking really bright for San Marino with a whole host of exciting new players coming through. Several are already in the first-team but two to keep an eye on are 16-year-olds midfielder Alex Gennari and striker Gian Luca Valli, who rank only behind DSM for potential.

Join us next time as Andy Selva leads his San Marino troops into another Nations League group and looks ahead to qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.

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