The Global Game

Tiny San Marino sets sights on massive goal

Cesta (Second Tower) Monte Titano, San Marino, May 2009
  • San Marino is our latest stop in the Global Game series
  • Football is the number one sport in the country
  • San Marino’s futsal team has dreams of qualifying for its first ever EURO

"Coaching San Marino? It’s a mixture of motivation and incentives. We go from the highs of the emotions we have every time that we have the chance to represent such a small country on the global stage, to serious problems which stem from the fact that the players are amateurs. To sum it all up, managing San Marino is a real buzz on a continuous basis and one that gets the adrenaline pumping."

The words are those of Franco Varrella, coach of the San Marino national team, when talking with about the state of football in one of the world’s smallest countries. The tiny enclave totally surrounded by Italy is one of the oldest republics on the planet, with a history dating back over 1700 years.

Nevertheless, the love of football in this 61 km2 country at the heart of Europe is enormous. Over 2,000 people (of a population of around 30,000) work in the sport on a professional basis in the fifth-smallest nation in the world.

Facts and figures

  • Around 300 people play futsal
  • c. 40 referees
  • c. 160 women’s footballers (87 in youth teams)
  • c. 550 men play football
  • c. 750 kids (aged between 6 and 18) are involved in the beautiful game
  • c. 200 people are involved in coaching
  • c. 170 people work on the administrative side of clubs
San Marino Futsal

The Federazione Sammarinese Giuoco Calcio, which was founded in 1931 and joined FIFA and UEFA in 1988, has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years.

The men's team may occupy the penultimate spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking ahead only of Anguilla, but it should be remembered that the players are primarily amateurs. Just three people in the entire squad for the recent EURO qualifiers play professionally, and all in Serie C – the Italian third tier. All of the others simply get to train two to three evenings a week.

The women’s team does not yet have official status, but after years of plying their trade in the lower reaches of the competition, the San Marino Academy women’s team is now eyeing promotion to the Italian first division. On top of this, the men's futsal team has reached the first round of EURO qualifying for the first time ever and, incredibly, could make history in the play-offs against Denmark by making it through to a major tournament.

"When people like to point out that San Marino are towards the bottom of the UEFA and FIFA Rankings, I don’t object,” says Varrella, who worked alongside UEFA Champions League-winning coach Arrigo Sacchi in the 1990s. "I’m fully aware of that fact and prefer to concentrate on the goals that we are striving towards. Something that might seem ridiculous for a bigger team could be a real achievement for us."

He was previously at the helm of the San Marino men’s team in 2008/09 and took over La Serenissima again two years ago. "This is why I’m fine with being the underdog as it fires our strength and our willpower to show people who we are and what we’re capable of, quite apart from the fact that the work we do can always throw up something interesting."

San Marino Academy

Did you know?

  • Massimo Bonini is one of the country’s most famous players, and was a team-mate of Michel Platini at Juventus
  • Andy Selva holds the record for appearances and goals for San Marino (74 caps, eight goals)
  • In addition to Selva, only Manuel Marani (2) has scored more than one goal for the country
  • In a FIFA World Cup qualifier in 1993, Davide Gualtieri scored against England after 8.3 seconds, which remained a record for a FIFA World Cup qualifier for several years. The final score was 7-1 to England.

This article is part of a new series entitled 'The Global Game', which deals with football away from the spotlight. Next week, we will be taking a look football on the Galapagos Islands in South America.

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