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Iain Macintosh
Friday, Oct 10, 2014

Sports

Euro 2016 Qualifiers: Pointless this game

The New Paper | Iain Macintosh | Friday, Oct 10, 2014

England's manager Roy Hodgson.

GROUP E

ENGLAND v SAN MARINO

(Friday, 2.45am, Wembley Stadium)

As England's players prepare to face San Marino on Friday morning (Singapore time), they should know that this is a game they cannot win.

They could rattle in 10 goals before half-time and they would still receive no credit whatsoever.

They could do to San Marino what the Russian Under-19s did to Cheadle Town on the Internet's favourite fixture of the weekend and beat them 22-0 and still it would be acknowledged only as the natural order asserting itself.

This game is pointless and it shouldn't be played.

There are 53 million people in England. San Marino, by contrast, is a micro-nation with a population of only slightly more than 32,000.

According to statistics from the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) World Factbook, only 8,992 of that number are male and between the ages of 15 and 64.

Even if we were generous and said that a quarter of that number were at a peak "football age" of between 18 and 35, that would still leave San Marino choosing from a pool of approximately 2,000.

That's 2,000 young men who may not even like football, let alone be able to play it at any level of competence. This is as level a playing field as the north face of the Eiger.

This fixture is unfair on everyone. It's unfair on England because the only reaction they can bring from the crowd is one of impatient frustration.

Every time a major team play a fixture of this sort, the crowd expect them to score in the first minute and then repeat the trick with every attack.

The minnows, of course, know that this is exactly what would happen under normal circumstances and so throw themselves back into their own half, filling every available gap with a chunk of semi-professional flesh.

The game becomes a relatively pointless training session, attack against defence with little hope of any alteration to the pattern.

It's not fair on San Marino either. How can their game even hope to progress when their entire existence is a joyless trudge around the world taking one thrashing after another?

How can they develop tactically when the only game plan they can employ is to drop back en masse and pray that the other team get bored?

BELIEF

Where is the enthusiasm, the belief, the feeling among the fans that they could be about to pull off a shock?

It's been kicked out of them. They scored once against Poland last year and it's been over two years since they last scored twice.

Those goals came in a 3-2 defeat by Malta and therein lies the answer for the tiny European teams.

It's long past time for Uefa to introduce pre-qualifying campaigns. Tiny nations should fight it out among themselves for the right to clog up the fixture calendar, playing mini tournaments in July and August among themselves.

At least that way, they'd be able to win some games, or even just avoid a regular spanking. That way, they might be able to take some fun from football, and perhaps give some back too.

The only alternative is for England to start going experimental. There's no point playing a full-strength team in a standard deployment because this isn't a standard game.

Manager Roy Hodgson should either throw his players forward in a custom-built 2-3-5 formation, or he should pick a B team of players he wants to try out, the Nathan Bakers, Jack Corks and Lee Cattermoles who don't quite make the grade.

Failing that, why not really have some fun? As one newspaper columnist in the UK suggested this week, perhaps this would be the ideal moment for Gary Lineker to finally draw level with Sir Bobby Charlton in the scoring charts.

Granted, he's 53 and more accustomed to the sofa of a TV studio, but this is San Marino. I'd put a £10 (S$20.50) on him score without a second thought.


This article was first published on Oct 8, 2014.
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