It seldom happens that the number one in the FIFA World rankings meets the bottom of the list in an official match. But on Friday, Holland - proudly leading the rankings since last week - will play San Marino in a European Championships qualifier. Dutch fans and players expect a high score from the home side.
Naturally, the odds and stats are overwhelmingly in favour of the orange squad. Bookmakers put the chances of a win for San Marino at a whopping 200:1. After all, Holland currently tops the FIFA rankings with some 1600 points, against not a single point for number 203, San Marino.
In two decades of FIFA and UEFA membership, the tiny country has never managed to win any competitive game. Two draws (against Turkey in 1993 and – away – against Latvia in 2001) have been their best achievements in World Cup or European Championship qualifiers.
No points, no goals
Results in recent years can best be labeled dramatic. In Euro 2012 qualifying group E, San Marino have lost all their matches, even failing to score as much as a single goal.
Yet, considering its size (61 square kilometers, comparable to Oxford or the Dutch town of Roermond) and its population (just over 30,000), this mountainous mini-state hasn’t performed that poorly. San Marino conceded 33 goals in seven qualifiers - that’s an average of about 0-5, the result of the first Euro 2012 match against Holland a year ago.
The chances of an upset on Friday are negligible, though. Indeed, the mere suggestion causes the spokeswoman for the San Marino Football Association to chuckle.
So, how should one see Friday’s game – as a warm-up for the next qualifier, against Finland on Tuesday? Twente striker Luuk de Jong doesn’t see it as a dress rehearsal:
“No, not at all. It’s a qualification match in its own right. That means we’ll take both matches very seriously, including the game against San Marino.”
Captain Mark van Bommel even regards the encounter as a challenge:
“Concentration is key in these sorts of matches where the opponent is likely to dig in and reduce the area of play. Even more important is the execution: precision passing and keeping up the pace. We cannot allow San Marino to slow down the match.”
Besides, Holland owes it to its loyal fans to put up a sterling performance, says manager Van Marwijk.
“The stadium is completely sold out, which is saying something, given that we are playing San Marino. And I feel we owe it to the nation and the fans in Eindhoven to give our level best. And if they can deliver, the team will have made another step forward. Because every football professional will be able to tell you how difficult it is to keep yourself motivated in these sorts of matches. And if you can, you’ve made yet another step.”