San Marino vs Azerbaijan
World Cup Qualifier
Stadio Olimpico di Serravalle. Sunday 4th September
Kick Off: 23:00 GMT+7
San Marino are gearing up for yet another inevitably unsuccessful World Cup qualification campaign, with their part-time amateur footballers ready to face-off against some of the biggest names in European football. Their group includes Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Germany, Northern Ireland and Norway. It’s not the strongest group in the competition by any means, but San Marino are fully expected to finish bottom of it.
Their last outing was a match against Croatia in the build up to Euro 2016, and they came out of that with their worst result in five years as they lost 10-0. This made it eight defeats in a row, with San Marino conceding 36 goals and scoring just once in this period of play. Their last victory came in a hybrid friendly against Bellaria Igea in July 2014.
To put their disadvantage into perspective, they have never won a competitive match and have only won twice in their history, both being friendlies. They have picked up a total of three points in major qualification campaigns since 1990, and their most famous competitive result is a goalless draw at home to Turkey in 1993.
Azerbaijan are by no means a huge team coming into this qualifying period, but they are fully expecting to get three points on the board early on. They finished second bottom of their Euro 2016 qualifying group last time out with six points, beating Malta by four points but ending up nowhere near the qualifying spots. They won’t be expecting to qualify for Russia 2018 either, but they can at least put in a good showing against San Marino.
Their last match saw them draw 1-1 with Canada back in June, making it four games without a win but five draws from their last ten matches. Their last victory came at home to Moldova last November, whilst their last away victory was a 1-0 victory against Albania in 2011.
I’m not expecting the same sort of thrashing that Croatia handed out to San Marino, but it should be a comfortable win for the visiting Azerbaijan. I think odds of 21/20 for 2 or 3 goals in the match look good value, and I’m going for a 2-0 win for Azerbaijan at 4/1 for my correct score prediction.
HEAD TO HEAD
These two nations have managed to avoid each other in both European and World Cup qualifying over the years, until now that is. San Marino don’t score a lot of goals and their biggest win came back in 2004 when they beat Liechtenstein 1-0. The hosts are more used to heavy defeats, the heaviest of which was 13-0 against Germany. Funnily enough the visitors biggest winning margin also came against Liechtenstein, a 4-0 win back in 1999. France beat Azerbaijan 10-0 in 1995, but the visitors game has improved a lot over the years, which is more than can be said for the minnows San Marino.
62% of San Marino's last eight home matches have had two or three goals scored in them.
San Marino are expected to name a similar starting line up to the one that lost 10-0 to Croatia in June, with their players almost exclusively being part-time amateur players.
34 year old captain and defender Rashad Sadygov is expected to add to his 103 international caps, whilst midfielder Emin Makhmudov and young strikers Mahir Madatov and Ramil Sheydayev are all hoping to earn their first cap. The top scorer in the squad is the experienced Sadygov, whilst the five forwards named in the squad have one international goal between them.