International Football Preview: San Marino v England

England Football LogoBy Mark Rawlinson

England’s road to qualification for the 2014 World Cup continues on Friday night as they travel to play San Marino.The small country, situated within Italy, are known as one of the weakest sides on the international stage which is backed up with their position on the FIFA World Rankings at number 207, joint-bottom.

Their squad is almost entirely made up of semi-professional players and contains a number of students, a hospital worker, a bar worker and a bank clerk amongst other professions.

And their playing history reflects their squad strength with the national football team still without a single win in competitive matches since their first match in 1990.

Their solitary international win came back in April 2004 with Andy Selva’s goal guiding them to a 1-0 win over Liechtenstein in an international friendly.

36-year-old Selva skippers the San Marino squad and is recognised as the best player to have played for the national side, having scored eight times for his country.

However, he has not scored since 2008 and it would be a huge surprise if he was able to add to his tally on Friday as San Marino host England.

Roy Hodgson’s side go into the match in second place in Group H trailing Montenegro by two points.

Last time out in October, England were only able to muster a 1-1 draw in Poland in farcical conditions. After the original match on the Tuesday night was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, the game was hastily re-scheduled for the Wednesday afternoon.

Wayne Rooney had put England up on the half hour mark but Poland battled back to snatch a draw through Kamil Glik.

Since then, there was defeat against Sweden in a friendly as they were defeated 4-2 in Stockholm although Brazil were dispatched 2-1 in another international back in early February.

England know they need to keep their foot on the gas with a big win over San Marino as they face a crucial match with Montenegro on Tuesday night which could ultimately decide who finishes to of the group.

Hodgson’s side has been decimated by injury over the past few days with a number of experienced defenders dropping out.

Rio Ferdinand was recalled to the national side after a spell away but he has been forced to pull out as has Gary Cahill and Michael Dawson.

Joleon Lescott, Stephen Caulker and Newcastle’s Steven Taylor have all been brought in as replacements, with the latter hoping to earn his first international cap.

Despite the injury set-backs, there can be few doubts about where the three points will be going on Friday, with England running out easy 5-0 winners when the two sides met at Wembley back in October.

Elsewhere, in Group C, the Republic of Ireland face a make-or-break match as they travel to second placed Sweden, who are just a point ahead of them in the group.

Scotland host Wales in Group A but there is little but pride riding on this match with poor starts to their respective qualification campaigns setting them way off the pace.

It’s the same story in Group F where Northern Ireland host Russia with the fourth-placed Ulstermen trailing third-placed Portugal by four points.