by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 10th 2014
The gap in international football is closing according to African Cup of Nations winner Vincent Enyeama and England manager, Roy Hodgson. “There are no more minnows in African football”, Enyeama said last year as the Super-Eagles ended their wait of almost two decades to win their third Nations Cup.
As if to emphasise his point that group included the then defending champions Zambia, but the Chipolopolo went home early and unfancied Burkina Faso made it to the final from a group of surprises and a tournament that defied conventional wisdom. “There are no more minnows”, Enyeama re-iterated. “Weʼre just going to take them like another opponent. Everyoneʼs contending for the champions”.
Nigeria went on to win the tournament and compete in the Confederationsʼ Cup and World Cup. The early stages of both competitions produced surprises too.
No More Surprises
After beating San Marino 5-0 Hodgson called for a repraisal of international footballʼs so-called minnows. “Surprises”? Hodgson said. “I think we should stop being surprised these days in international football, you know. I donʼt think we can any more just expect any more because you happen to be called Switzerland, or Spain, or Russia, or England that whoever you play, youʼre going to go and beat them, because they donʼt have so many people living in the country as you do. I think weʼve got to stop that.
San Marino currently occupies bottom place in FIFAʼs rankings, but Hodgson offered words of encouragement. “I must say of San Marino, I thought they were better this year”, he said. “I thought they were actually a better team this year than they were last year, so theyʼre making strides forward, albeit that as an amateur team itʼs going to take them a long while before they can beat the likes of us at Wembley, I hope anyway”.
The Minnows Roar
Pierangelo Manzaroli never had any illusions that his San Marino team could trouble England, but he hopes to see his team make history. “ We hope to get a result from the rest of the qualifying campaign”, Manzaroli said. “Obviously getting a result against a team like England is very hard, but there are other teams like Estonia, Slovenia or Lithuania where we can hopefully get a historic draw, or even a more historic win for our nation”.
San Marino face a Switzerland team next week the Swiss are suffering a World Cup hang over having lost to England and also Slovenia. “Obviously teams like England, Switzerland, Slovenia are out of our league, but I think thereʼll be a different spirit at home in San Marino”, Manzaroli said. “All the commitment we showed today, weʼll show even more in San Marino and I feel we can make life hard for them”.
England face Estonia on Sunday, buoyed by an impressive win in Basel and a comfortable 5-0 thrashing of San Marino. Safet Sušićʼs World Cup finalists need something from tonightʼs match with Chris Colemanʼs resurgent Wales team.