Ahead of England’s World Cup qualifier against San Marino on Friday at the tiny Stadio Olimpico (capacity: 7,000) in Serravalle, San Marino captain Damiano Vannucci gives ShortList an insight into the world of football’s biggest underdogs…
“Our manager won’t tell us that we can win this game. He is aware that we are a team of amateurs and however much we train, we could never compete with professionals. In the first leg [at Wembley in October 2012], we conceded five goals, so to lose 2-0 this time would be fantastic [laughs]. It really would.
“It might seem strange to feel happy about losing but, as I said, we’re amateurs.
“Friday will be tough because England is one of the strongest teams in the world with a prestigious history. Their best player, for me, is Rooney, but Lampard and Gerrard are the most exciting to watch. It’s a beautiful thing to have the honour of representing your country and facing Rooney, Welbeck… all these champions you usually only see on TV.
“I own a fitness centre and work as a personal trainer, so for me, football is not my job; it’s my passion.
“I work nine hours a day, then go to training for three hours in the evening. Sometimes you have problems at work so you miss training because the job comes first.
“After a match like this one against England, I’ll go back to work and my colleagues will ask me who the best player was, if I marked him properly, what the stadium was like. These are beautiful questions to be able to answer because there are some great players in Italy who earn lots of money but will never get to have these experiences, because it’s so difficult to get into the Italian national team.
“And we, who are amateurs, get to have these experiences. So, we have to be proud of that.
“Sometimes I’ll ask for autographs from famous players I face, but usually I do that before the game, not afterwards when we’ve lost by many goals [laughs].
“I don’t think San Marino will qualify for a major tournament in my lifetime. At the moment we have only one professional player, so we need a lot of work to improve. I hope I’ll see it, but I believe it will remain a dream.”