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Saturday, April 11, 2015

SAN MARINO'S NATIONAL TEAM PLAYS ON, BUT THE STORY REMAINS THE SAME

The players strike in San Marino has ended after it was agreed that discussions would take place between the FSGC (Federazione Sammarinese Giuoco Calcio - the San Marino FA) and the ASC (Associazione Sammarinese Calciatori, or the Sammarinese Footballers' Association) regarding a number of demands, which had been presented by the players' association over the last few months, which they claimed were not responded to by the FSGC.

On 17/3/15, a delegation from the ASC consisting of president Gian Luca Bollini, vice-president Andy Selva plus committee members Davide Simoncini met with San Marino's Secretary for Tourism and Sport Teodoro Lonferini at the latter's office and explained their stance to him. Secretary of State Lonferini agreed to convey a message from the ASC to FSGC president Crescentini requesting that both sides meet to discuss the players' demands.

The next day, the strike, which had been called on 13/3/15 (see previous article here on Pat's Football Blog - "Trouble Brewing in San Marino": http://patmcguinness.blogspot.nl/2015/03/trouble-brewing-in-san-marino.html), was lifted, at least temporarily, when the FSGC agreed to consider the players' demands and organise a series of discussions covering the relevant topics, which are due to take place from 13/4/15. These meetings will be aimed at addressing the players' demands and improving footballing standards in all walks of Sammarinese footballing life from youth level through to women's and national team levels.

On 24/3/15, vice-president of the ASC Andy Selva responded to a report carried on the RTV San Marino website, which claimed that the ASC had demanded an annual payment of some €98000 from the FSGC to help cover its activities, by requesting that the television station's director, Carlo Romeo, issue an apology for what he called a "false and unfounded" report. Romeo duly obliged, and added that, although the report came from what he called "a reliable source," the ASC had never mentioned the issue of financial assistance from the FSGC in any way, shape or form.

The San Marino team headed off to Ljubljana on 25/3/15 to take on Slovenia in their Euro 2016 qualifying match, though regular goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini was forced out of the team due to illness. The Libertas shotstopper's place was taken by Elia Benedettini from US Pianese, who would be making his first senior appearance for his country. 

On the day of the game, Secretary of State Lonferini expressed the hope that La Serenissima would, despite recent events, give a good account of themselves in the Slovenian capital, and, early on, Tre Penne midfielder Giovanni Bonini delivered the first shot in anger from the right-hand side after two minutes, which went a couple of yards wide. It was to prove San Marino's only attempt on goal throughout the entire 90 minutes.

San Marino went behind after ten minutes after Josef Ilicic was allowed to run through the defence, round Benedettini and stroke the ball into the empty net, and were under the cosh for the entire first half. Benedettini performed well, and, with the assistance on two occasions of the woodwork, ensured that his team went in at half-time only the one goal behind.


Any hopes that San Marino could perhaps eke out a surprise result were snuffed out within seven minutes of the restart, when Slovenia scored three goals in as many minutes through Kevin Kampl, Andraz Struna and Milivoje Novakovic as the visitors' defence crumbled. Just after the hour, Mirko Palazzi's cross from the left found Pier Filippo Mazza free at the far side of the penalty-area.

However, instead of having a shot on goal himself, he elected to chip the ball towards the centre of the Slovenian penalty-area where Andy Selva and José Hirsch were in space, but the ball was headed clear by a Slovenian defender.

Slovenia went on to add a further two goals in the last 20 minutes, courtesy of Dejan Lazarevic and Branko Ilic as the constant pressure on the San Marino defence told; the hosts had 46 attempts on goal during the course of the match. Despite conceding six goals in what was a record margin of victory for the home team, Benedettini was still very much the star man for Pierangelo Manzaroli's side on the night, pulling off no fewer than twelve saves.


Aldo Simoncini was back between the sticks for San Marino the following Tuesday afternoon, when La Serenissima went to Liechtenstein to take on the locals in a friendly, which took place in the village of Eschen, and they started brightly enough with some early pressure on the hosts which, after a scramble in the box, resulted in Danilo Rinaldi forcing Jehle into a save.

Simon Kühne and Martin Buchel had efforts from outside the box for the home team which were comfortably saved by Simoncini, whist Andy Silva had a go for San Marino from outside the box after 10 minutes which was no problem for Jehle. Dennis Salanovic went on a run down the left and prodded in a shot from 6 yards which trickled past Simoncini's right-hand post.

Kühle found himself clear on the right-hand side of the San Marino penalty-area in the 27th minute, but Alessandro Della Valle blocked his shot just in time. The resulting corner was floated in over the mass of bodies in the six-yard area and found Dennis Hartmann, who, standing all alone some five yards out from an unguarded far post having escaped the attentions of Fabio Vitaioli, headed the ball home with ease to give Liechtenstein the lead. 

The Serenissima were guilty of ball-watching, leaving the far post unguarded and being as static as a bunch of concrete poles, and the reaction of captain Andy Selva after the goal said it all: a shake of the head and a face which read "here we go again."

Liechtenstein were in the ascendancy as far as possession was concerned, but were unable to fashion a clear-cut chance to double their lead. San Marino should have been on level terms going in at the break; a ball from the half-way line was collected by Selva on the right-hand side, and his cross-pass just outside the penalty-area was met by Mirko Palazzi, who got his shot on target only for Jehle to parry it out towards the onrushing Danilo Rinaldi, who although off-balance, should have done better than to spoon the ball high and wide from seven yards out.

The second-half began rather scrappily, and Fabio Vitaioli's dangerous free-kick from central midfield evaded the Liechtenstein defence, but also Selva and Davide Simoncini and floated wide. On the hour, a corner from the right was flicked on by Basler, but Simoncini punched the ball clear at his left-hand post. 

A period of scrappy play and a raft of substitutions followed, but, with 10 minutes left, La Serenissima almost equalised when Lorenzo Gasperoni tapped a free-kick into the path of Vitaioli, whose rasping shot from distance was well tipped over by substitute 'keeper Benjamin Büchel.

There were no more real efforts on goal from either team, and Liechtenstein ran out 1:0 winners, which was some comfort to them after they were swept aside at home the previous Friday by neighbours Austria, who scored five without reply. For San Marino, however, it was the same old story.

A  1:0 win for the hosts was probably the right result, though San Marino did have their chances in a game where chances were few and far between. Vitaioli and Davide Simoncini were possibly the two best players on the pitch for the men in white, who played with purpose and no little tenacity but were lacking a little putch upfront.

It has been claimed in the past by sections of the English media that the standard of football in San Marino has not improved in recent years, but has actually gone backwards. Rather than going backwards, the standard has perhaps stalled whilst most of the rest of European football has progressed, and there are, in the humble opinion of your correspondent, various reasons for this.

San Marino has a population of some 33000 people, which intimates that the country has an extremely small pool of adult footballers of Sammarinese origin; there are also a large number of Italians and other foreign nationals taking part in national competitions. 

The country has an notoriously and extremely strict citizenship policy; for example, a foreign national can only obtain Sammarinese citizenship after having lived in the republic for a period of not less than 30 years (unless married to someone with Sammarinese nationality, in which case the required period of residency is reduced to 15 years).

One of the reasons for the players' strike in March was the failure of the FSGC to act on various proposals aimed at improving the standard of football in the country; Andy Selva, vice-president of the ASC (L'Associazione Sammarinese Calciatori), said at the time that players trained "2 to 3 times per week," and that the country had not produced a "decent player in the last 30 years." 

This brings to mind a quote, made several years ago by former Luxembourg national team manager Paul Phillippe, then manager of F91 Dudelange, who criticised the fitness standards of Tre Penne players after his team comprehensively defeated the Sammarinese club side over two legs of a European tie, saying that their opponents "did not have to be good, but they at least had to be fit."

Taking into account Selva's comments, the national team's players will need to train 4 or 5 times per week, but this might not sit well with the employers of those who are currently working in evening jobs. However, the needs of those toiling at night could be catered for by the provision of morning or afternoon training-sessions on a full-time basis, with said sessons being open, not just for players of national team standard but for Sammarinese players of all abilities, which would help bring up the standard in the country as a whole.

Perhaps it is time to bring in some form of long-term assistance from outside the country; this may well come up at some stage during the proposed series of meetings between the FSCG and the ASC. This does not mean that national team manager Pierangelo Manzaroli should be sacked, but that he should be given every assistance necessary to be able to carry out his duties in the best possible manner. 

There does not appear to be any form of an agreement or partnership between the FSGC and their Italian counterparts (the FIGC); it would surely not do any harm for the FSGC to explore this avenue, or to approach UEFA for help should they find it necessary to do so. For the moment, however, it is up to the FSGC and the ASC to help each other in order to come to some sort of agreement as to how to move football forward in San Marino at all levels; progress must surely follow.

Encouragement can be gleaned from the performance of their under-16 side at the recent UEFA development tournament in Gibraltar, where they lost 3:0 to the hosts despite dominating large swathes of the game. They then lost 1:0 to Macedonia before defeating Malta 2:1, a victory which was apparently richly deserved.

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Apart from gleaning information from the RTV San Marino website, information was also gathered from the UEFA website and that of Volksblatt.li. With regard to San Marino's citizenship laws, kindly go to the following link, where those of you with a much better grasp of Italian can read all about the subject:

http://www.esteri.sm/on-line/en/home/stay-and-residence-permits.html


As ever, the fault for any errors/omissions lies at the door of the author (apologies in advance); these shall be amended/inserted as soon as any notification of same is received.












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