The World Cup is considered to be the greatest exhibition of football. Teams full of the flair of Brazil and Italy, the workmanlike efficiency of the Germans, and the surprise elements of excellent African teams like Cameroon ensure that at each competition there are stories to be told.
So which of the great football nations has the honour of scoring the fastest goal in the World Cup? Whose footballing pedigree led to their nation being quicker at scoring a goal than any other? Well, it wasn't a famous team at all, and the nation in question didn't even win a game until 2004. This honour belongs, almost unbelievably, to the team from San Marino1.
We've been playing for 61 minutes here in Serravalle, and it's just occurred to me that Scotland are drawing 0-0 with a mountain-top.
- Ian Archer of BBC Radio Scotland commentating on San Marino vs Scotland in 1991.
Tucked away in eastern Italy, the Repubblica di San Marino is the third smallest independent state in Europe, covering just 24 square miles (61km²). San Marino is most famous for the nearby Imola racing circuit2, home to the Formula One Grand Prix, and there its sporting fame almost ends. Having a population of just 28,5003, of whom only 1200 play football (and only one of these as a professional), it hardly has the resources to support a hotbed of talent. The San Marinese Football Association was formed in 1931, but didn't receive official FIFA recognition until 1988. The qualifying games for the 1994 World Cup Finals were their first competition.
The draw for qualifying had thrown up an interesting Group Two. European heavyweights England and Holland had been drawn together with emerging sides Norway, Poland and Turkey, along with San Marino who were expected to be the whipping boys of the group. In fact, they managed just a single point (a 0-0 home draw with Turkey) and were beaten heavily by Norway (10-0), England (6-0), and the Dutch (6-0 and 7-0) before their final match.
San Marino's opponents in the last game of the campaign were England, whose qualifying matches had started well, but inconsistent form in the middle part of the campaign had cost them dearly. The team and their manager, Graham Taylor, had been branded 'turnips' by the press and pressure was building for Taylor to quit. It was a game England had to win by at least seven clear goals and hope that Holland lost in Poland.
On 17 November, 1993 England headed to San Marino. Even given their poor form, the result was never seriously considered doubtful and there was much speculation as to whether England could break double figures against San Marino as Norway had.
But things didn't go quite to plan initially, as from the kick-off the ball went back towards England's defence. Stuart Pearce attempted a back-pass to goalkeeper David Seaman, but to their horror Davide Gualtieri sneaked in, pinched the ball and knocked it past the onrushing goalkeeper and into the net. Unbelievably, it was San Marino 1 England 0, with 8.3 seconds on the clock.
Welcome to Bologna on Capital Gold for England versus San Marino with Tennent's Pilsner, brewed with Czechoslovakian yeast for that extra Pilsner taste and England are one down.
- Jonathan Pearce's radio commentary on the goal.
England soon got into their stride, however, and eventually ran out 7-1 winners, Ian Wright chipping in with four of them.
England hadn't managed the seven clear goals they needed, but Holland made the match largely irrelevant in any case, coming from behind to beat Poland 3-1 in Poland and qualifying along with Norway.
It was to be Graham Taylor's last match in charge. He and his assistant, Lawrie McMenemy were clearly out of their depth and were stood down by the Football Association. His famous quote, captured by British TV, of 'Do I not like that?' made him an unfortunate figure of fun for many years. The TV programme that was made of the disastrous qualifying campaign was a major inspiration for the film Mike Bassett - England Manager.
Gualtieri, who was playing in the Eccellenza league for Italian amateurs at the time of the game, enjoyed a brief burst of fame following his goal and still says 'I don't need to watch any TV replays, all that happened is still so clear in my mind'. However he was forced to retire from football through injury in 2000. He now runs a small computer business in San Marino.
On 28 April, 2004 a goal from Andy Selva, San Marino's only professional footballer, gave them a 1-0 victory over fellow minnows Liechtenstein. It was their first ever win.