3 Reasons Why San Marino Is BAD At Football

Ranked last in the FIFA world ranking, San Marino is regarded as one of the worst national sides in football history. Just 4 games away from their 200th official match, San Marino’s only win remains their 1-0 victory against Lichtenstein back in 2004. 

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Source: FIFA

Since playing their first official match in 1990, the Sammarinese side has conceded 722 goals in all competitions, scoring only 20 goals for themselves. 

San Marino is one of the smallest countries in the world. With a population of just a little over 30,000, it is obvious that they are at a disadvantage to a certain extent.

 However, this should not be an excuse for ranking 211th in the world!

A small population would mean a smaller pool of talents to select players from. Still, small countries around the world have proven themselves worthy to compete at the highest level of football. One of the greatest stories would be Iceland’s outstanding effort in Euro 2016 and FIFA World Cup 2018

Before aiming too high, winning a second match would certainly be a historic moment for the Sammarinese. Accordingly, the southern European side can start by tackling the reasons why they are not progressing in football

To give you some context, here are the matches that San Marino did not lose:

  • San Marino 0-0 Turkey (1993)
  • San Marino 1-1 Latvia (2001)
  • San Marino 2-2 Liechtenstein (2003)
  • San Marino 1-0 Liechtenstein (2004)
  • San Marino 0-0 Estonia (2014)
  • San Marino 0-0 Liechtenstein

Why is San Marino bad at football?

Here are 3 main reasons why San Marino performs poorly in football:

#1 Late entry to FIFA 

San Marino had their football federation established in 1931, quite early compared to a lot of countries in the world. However, they were only recognised by UEFA and FIFA in 1988, playing their first official match 2 years later in a 1-0 defeat against Canada. 

Being late to enter UEFA and FIFA is not the main reason San Marino is bad at football, but it played a part.

Missing out on regular competitions means lost opportunities for the Sammarinese players to collect experience and develop their game. 

A domestic league that is simply not good enough

The last 3 World Cups were won by France, Germany, and Spain. It is easy for anyone who watches football to realise that each country has an excellent domestic league with footballing giants (Paris Saint Germain, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, etc). 

The level of the domestic league does not guarantee international success, but it plays an important role in player development

The domestic league is where local players have the chance to start their careers.

An ideal league usually comes with the entire football industry involving youth development and academies. Not only will this maximise talent scouting, but it also facilitates the development of young footballers within a country. 

As the league grows and attracts international players, it forces local players to up their standard to compete with the new bar in the league. As a result, local players can bring a new standard to the national team

Unfortunately for Sammarinese players, they have no local option other than the Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio (Sammarinese Football Championship)! 

The Sammarinese Football Championship is the only football competition in San Marino. The league has no relegation and promotion with only 15 teams competing every season.

Furthermore, its status as an amateur football league makes it unattractive for international players. 

Competition structure in UEFA

Europe is home to some of the best teams and players in the world. For many weaker European sides, having constant chances to play with footballing titans has proven to be beneficial for their growth as a national team.

However, San Marino placing last in the world ranking shows that playing in UEFA may be a double-edged sword

“This is nothing to do with professional football. Of course, it is a highlight for San Marino to play the world champions. But these games, in such slippery conditions, leave you exposed to unnecessary risk.” 

Thomas Muller

The controversial comment was made by Thomas Muller after Germany thrashed San Marino 8-0 in the 2018 World Cup qualifier match. While deemed disrespectful by several critics, it shows how playing with UEFA’s top sides may present more harm than benefit for a side like San Marino

As it shows on their record, it is barely possible for San Marino to score against fellow European countries, let alone win a match! In such one-sided affairs, Sammarinese players are often forced to play defence without any sort of game plan

San Marino’s heaviest defeats against European sides include:

  • San Marino 0-13 Germany (2006)
  • San Marino 0-11 Netherlands (2012)
  • San Marino 0-10 Croatia (2016)

More often than not, the priority for a side like San Marino is to hold on and concede minimal goals, instead of trying to win the game. Consequently, the players missed a chance to develop their game. This is especially so when they are facing humiliating defeats week in and week out. 

On the bright side, UEFA has launched a new type of competition in the UEFA Nations League. Having competed twice in the competition, San Marino had better outings facing countries like Malta, Estonia, and Gibraltar! 

Despite failing to get their 2nd ever win, San Marino managed to record a historic consecutive draw against Liechtenstein and Gibraltar.

It may  not sound impressive, but it was passionately celebrated by both Sammarinese players and fans


San Marino is always at a disadvantage. With a limited population and heavy competition, the expectations were not high in the first place
Setting a more ambitious goal is something for the future.

For now, a second win should remain the main goal for the Sammarinese national team!

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