Monday, November 12, 2012

UEFA WIBD: If you're going to San Ma-rino...

It will be a rare day in the land of FIFA World Cup qualifiers when this Wednesday we see only 6 games on the docket. But, this kind of scheduling quirk is actually ideal for our now fairly regularly installments in the series chronicling the trials and tribulations of underdog teams.

If you can't tell, I don't really look at Europe and see underdogs. Europe's where the power in FIFA lies (and will lie whenever old white man Sepp Blatter decides to cede power to slightly-less-old-white-man Michel Platini). Europe's where the biggest leagues are. Europe's where the biggest stars play their club football. Europe's won the last two world cups (with closest rival Brazil looking absolutely bored with trying to keep up). In Europe the question is not whether or not they should host the world cup, but WHO among them should host it.

But all that power is not equally spread among all European nations. Sure England, France, Holland and their fellow continental powers dominate practically every single award category and conversation about the sport, but those countries have to go through the qualifying process like anybody else. Two poor results and suddenly those Goliaths might go reeling. After all England, france and Holland have each missed a cup in the past two decades--so there's a chance (however mind-bogglingly miniscule) that a non-power could slip in via some choice upsets.

So, in that spirit, we're rooting for an avalanche of upsets to tilt the tables in favor of the tiny nation known as San Marino. Though the Sammarinese might boast of their millenium old sovereigncy or 400-year-old constitution, they have little to boast of on the pitch thanks to a record of 1 Win, 4 Draws, 119 losses.

Hint, Palazzi is the one not getting the ball...
To be fair, with only 32,000 people within its boundaries San Marino has fewer people than Butte, Montana; so perhaps if San Marino and Butte joined forces the team could be twice as good (and totally prepped for playing at high altitudes).

But more likely, the team known as La Serenissima ("The Serene") will be content to draw from their own local pool of semi-pro players in an effort to catch lightning in a bottle and inspire a new wave of talent. The team does boast two players in (the lowest rungs of) Italian football in 25 year old Defender Mirko Palazzi, and 23 year-old Forward Allesandro Bianchi.

While the team has (unsurprisingly) yet to score a goal in 3 qualifiers while (again, unsurprisingly) allowing 13, they can take solace in the fact that they are only 2 points behind Ukraine and still technically alive for the World Cup. And sure that road to Brazil will require several big wins to erase their goal deficit and perhaps a nuclear disaster that wipes England off the map, but maybe, just maybe this can become reality.

Dream on San Marino, Dream on.