England football 2021 San Marino boss relishing England challenge despite four months .

England football 2021 San Marino boss relishing England challenge despite four months .

England football England football boss relishing San England challenge months despite four … Marino

Thu, 25 Mar 2021 02:00:00 +0000

The odds will be stacked against San Marino even more than usual when they travel to Wembley to take on England in World Cup qualifying on Wednesday 

The odds will be stacked against San Marino even more than usual when they travel to Wembley to take on England in World Cup qualifying on Wednesday night

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England begin the road to next year’s World Cup against a team who have NEVER won a competitive match.

San Marino are the lowest ranked team in world football, they have a population of 33,000 and are made up largely of part-timers.

And if England stars think this season has been difficult, then spare a thought for San Marino who were not able to play for FOUR MONTHS.

Coronavirus restrictions meant there were no non-league matches allowed, players were only allowed to train individually between October and February and they have only just started playing again.

It is hardly the best preparation for a trip to Wembley but the world’s lowest ranked team still see it as a huge adventure to face England.

San Marino boss Franco Varrella, 68, a former Juventus youth team player and experienced coach, said: “We only started one month ago, we’ve played just four official games before this triple header of World Cup qualifying matches.

“We are far away from our best condition and even further away than Premier League players can reach.

Our target to fix a score would be difficult but we can hope to make it difficult for them.

“When the opposition is so tough, the challenges are incredibly high.

But it is a dream to play great teams but the challenge for every team is to make sure we never enter the pitch already beaten.

That is our target for this game, to enter the pitch not beaten.

“England are a very good team now.

They play a much more international style than they have in recent years.”

Veteran midfielder Mirko Palazzi, 34, added: “To play here at Wembley is always a very proud moment for us, especially in such a historical moment at the start of a campaign.

“We want to make a better start ourselves at Wembley because it is a temple of football and England are one of the best teams in the world.

“We’ve played as a national team in so many games with some really big opponents, England, Spain and Germany.

Each time we’ve faced professional opponents, even with the smaller teams.

“We want to be as professional as possible even if we’re not professional and we’re normal working people.

But when San Marino players end their careers, the most beautiful memories will be from the national team, playing in great stadiums.

“I’ve played at Wembley three times and it’s incredible – even if it’s a source of jokes from my team mates in the locker room."

San Marino have played England six times, lost all six, conceding 37 goals and scoring just once… the famous opening goal back in 1993 when Davide Gualtieri scored after just 8.3 seconds which remains the second fastest goal in World Cup qualifying history.

Gualtieri is a national hero despite England eventually winning 7-1 but they still missed out on qualifying for the 1994 World Cup which cost Graham Taylor his job.

Incredibly, they were ranked 118th – which was their highest ever standing – after losing to England in 1993 but, after several changes to the FIFA system in recent years, they now find themselves marooned nearly 100 places lower at the bottom of the pile.

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FIFA has 211 recognised nations but only 210 are currently ranked.

But they have just enjoyed their best ever sequence – two consecutive goalless draws against Lichtenstein and then Gibraltar – and so all hope is not lost.

There will always be debate about whether minnows should be playing big nations but this remains a dream come true for San Marino and striker Matteo Vitaioli sums up the mood in the squad.

Vitaioli, 31, who has scored one goal in 62 caps while working part time in a graphic design office, said: “We will share the pitch with players that we are used to seeing on TV.”

Football has always been about dreams and romance – and San Marino are entitled to theirs.


England football England football

Thu, 25 Mar 2021 02:00:00 +0000

Who would make it into England's strongest XI for Euro 2020? Sky Sports football writers make their selections


Who would make it into England’s strongest XI for Euro 2020? Sky Sports football writers make their selections…

An abundance of riches? Or too many square pegs in round holes? Our team of writers pick the England XI they would start in the opening Euro 2020 game vs Croatia.

The road to the summer is starting to come into view.

The Three Lions have three fixtures to look forward to over the next week, with World Cup qualifying games against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

However, although positive results will be non-negotiable, manager Gareth Southgate will be keeping a close eye on individual performances as he plots his squad for the summer’s major tournament.

Our team of writers have picked their strongest England teams for the crucial opening clash with familiar foes Croatia on June 13.

Read on to see who they’ve chosen and why, then use our team selector to pick your best England XI…

I’m sticking with the 4-3-3 formation – one that in my view harnesses and liberates England’s strengths.

John Stones and Luke Shaw have played their way into defence as it stands and, in an attacking team, the terrific Reece James for me offers a little more balance and security.

The prognosis for Jordan Henderson’s recovery will hopefully afford him enough time to get back into the groove; he is the experienced anchor around which Phil Foden and Mason Mount – a player proving himself ever-versatile as well as industrious – can craft.

Jack Grealish thrives cutting in from high up on the left, while Raheem Sterling has proved he is efficient too on the right and can drift into central areas if Harry Kane drops deeper.

The goalkeeping debate continues to compel.

Nick Pope’s impressive stats have matched the eye test but Dean Henderson – agile, supremely confident and capitalising on an extended run between the Man Utd sticks – can now stake a legitimate claim.

I feel for Southgate.

Welcome headaches aren’t really welcome when there are a dozen acceptable variations of this XI.

Shoo-ins are at a minimum and any perceived incorrect selection will be met with that inevitable frenzied tournament criticism.

It’s a five-man defence – Southgate’s choice in the last seven internationals and the right approach for tournament football.

Those who want England to go for the throat should be reminded the last five major tournament winners have drawn a group-stage game.

If England lose against Croatia, it sets a negative tone; Southgate will be conservative.

Conor Coady is more a fit than a wish at centre-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s exclusion was puzzling but signals a toss-up between Reece James and Kieran Trippier – a regular for La Liga’s top side, for those who have forgotten – while John Stones and Luke Shaw return.

Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount and Phil Foden is the right mix of form and Southgate’s trust, but Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford haven’t done enough to oust Raheem Sterling or tip the balance from conservative to attacking in this opener.

Alongside Jack Grealish, they should be given time against Scotland and Czech Republic.

Jordan Pickford has never put a foot wrong for England, so he gets the nod in goal.

Can England be trusted defensively against the elite teams? It’s all well and good filling the team with our gifted and exciting attacking players but Southgate will stick to a structure he knows.

That will surely be a back five.

For tournament football, playing with three centre-backs makes sense in terms of balance and protection.

Plus, playing off the left of a three looks like Harry Maguire’s most comfortable position.

Conor Coady performs week-in, week-out, in the Premier League in the middle of a three and has the leadership and reliability qualities to be trusted to play in big matches.

I’d much rather play John Stones as the right-sided centre-back as Kyle Walker in that role just hasn’t worked.

Something we knew at the World Cup.

Surely Luke Shaw has grabbed the jersey down the left – his ability to create chances when roaming forward could be a massive weapon.

An in-form Trent Alexander-Arnold is an automatic pick down the right but his absence from the squad surely opens the door for Reece James or Kieran Trippier to make an impact.

With England’s threat at attacking set-pieces among the best in world football under Southgate, it makes sense to have a world-class deliverer in James Ward-Prowse starting.

He offers more in that regard than Declan Rice and I like the energy that the Saints man and Jordan Henderson would provide in the engine room.

They can then concentrate on moving the ball quickly to the front three of Jack Grealish, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling – an attacking trio that could just take England to major glory.

One of Southgate’s biggest decisions is in goal.

Jordan Pickford has remained first choice, even when he has been under scrutiny for errors with Everton.

But it’s time to give Nick Pope the chance he deserves, with the Burnley goalkeeper registering better numbers in almost every area and has been remarkable again this season.

There’s still time to bring him up to speed as England’s No 1 and that must start in these March internationals – but will Southgate take the chance?

Harry Maguire is the most likely to start, but who to pair him with? Conor Coady provides much-needed leadership and defensive stability, which England will undoubtedly need in those hairy tournament moments, alongside a fellow Premier League captain.

John Stones has the most international experience, along with Maguire, but he has the scars to prove it too.

But make no mistake about it – Stones and Tyrone Mings will be ready to step in at a moment’s notice.

Another tough call is who to leave out in attack.

Mason Mount can play pretty much anywhere and gives Southgate vital tactical options without needing to make a substitution.

If Jack Grealish is fit, he simply has to play, providing England some much-needed creativity to pick the locks of Europe’s best defences.

Mount and Grealish together should be a mouth-watering prospect for any England fan.

However, if previous selections are anything to go by, you would expect Southgate to stick with his favoured players like Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford alongside England captain Harry Kane.

But it’s time for Southgate to nail down his best XI – which should include Grealish – with three months to go until the Euros.

Nick Pope earns the No.1 shirt for me.

He’s made far more saves and conceded almost the same number of goals.

His shot-stopping abilities appear slightly superior, particularly from distance – and expected goals data backs this up.

England have options in all areas now – not just in attack.

John Stones and Luke Shaw have bolstered light areas in defence, while Declan Rice is shining brighter than ever at West Ham.

Jordan Henderson is a leader and invaluable at both ends of the pitch.

But, up top, I have almost baffled myself by leaving out all three speedsters: Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho.

I’ve opted to start silky-skilled Jack Grealish and Phil Foden down the flanks, who have hit world-class form and can carry the ball through defensive lines, while Mason Mount provides midfield mettle and attacking thrust.

All that creative talent spells goals for Harry Kane, with James Maddison joining a star-studded bench.

Nick Pope has been a noble deputy to Jordan Pickford in recent years, but the England No.1’s absence from the forthcoming World Cup Qualifiers leaves the door open to more competition.

If Dean Henderson can exploit the opening in front of him just as he seems to have done in replacing David de Gea at Manchester United, he could be in pole position come this summer.

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s omission from the latest squad will have set a fire under the Liverpool right-back but I have no doubt it will prove to be a managerial masterstroke from Southgate.

He’ll have rediscovered his form just in time for the Euros, and alongside Harry Maguire, John Stones and Luke Shaw, England will have a competent defensive unit with unrivalled ball-playing qualities.

In front of the defence, the proven leadership qualities of Jordan Henderson will be instrumental to England’s chances, while the evolution of Declan Rice’s game makes for a multi-faceted midfield base.

Mason Mount has the ability to be the lynchpin of England’s attack, with his vision and awareness in a central position key to getting the best out of Raheem Sterling down the right flank and Harry Kane up front, as well as providing the protection needed for Jack Grealish’s talent to come to the fore.

You need solid defensive foundations to go the distance at a major tournament, so while it’s tempting to pack the side with as much attacking talent as possible, I’ve gone for a conservative XI capable of grinding out wins.

Jordan Pickford starts, largely for his unrivalled distribution, and I’ve opted for the back three that helped England reach the World Cup semis in 2018.

I disagree with Southgate’s decision to omit Trent Alexander-Arnold from his latest squad but his form is a worry and I prefer Trippier in the wing-back role.

He has that crucial set-piece threat and defensively he’s benefitted from working with Diego Simeone.

I might have been tempted to go with Bukayo Saka at left wing-back, but he hasn’t played there enough this season and Luke Shaw is at the top of his game.

Jordan Henderson anchors the midfield, with Mason Mount and Phil Foden offering industry as well as creativity ahead of him, while Raheem Sterling’s pace will be vital on the break.

Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford are there to be unleashed from the bench.

For all the talk of Nick Pope and Dean Henderson, it is Jordan Pickford who remains the right choice as England goalkeeper.

His Everton form has been mixed at best in the last couple of years, but when it comes to big moments he has never let England down, and his distribution is also essential.

Gareth Southgate has got the call to drop Trent Alexander-Arnold wrong.

Even in a season when his own level has dipped, he is still performing at a far higher standard than most of his rivals for the same position, while the form of John Stones should give Southgate the confidence to revert to a back four.

With Joe Gomez likely absent, Harry Maguire remains the only realistic partner, and Luke Shaw has re-emerged as a shoo-in at left-back.

While Jack Grealish plays his best football in a more advanced position for Aston Villa, he is still a high-quality midfield option and England don’t need him as high up the pitch, plus with a base of Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice he should still have freedom to thrive.

Up front, it is a close call between Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford on the left, but England do not have the creativity elsewhere to carry both so it is the Manchester United man who earns that berth, while Phil Foden deserves a shot on the right side of Harry Kane.

We’ve left the comments open below to debate England’s best XI – but please follow the house rules.

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– March 25, 2021
England football 2021 San Marino boss relishing England challenge despite four months .

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