For the USA and England, today’s World Cup qualifiers mean games against two of the smallest countries in the world. The USA faces Antigua and Barbuda (population 81,799), and England faces San Marino (31,735).
Mismatches, certainly, though Antigua’s record in international soccer is already a bit better than San Marino’s. The Caribbean nation has a couple of wins against fellow Caribbean teams that have played in the World Cup without embarrassing themselves. San Marino has won exactly once.
Perhaps San Marino would do a bit better if the European draw were different. Andorra is only a few places ahead in the FIFA rankings, yet San Marino appears to have never played its fellow European minnow. It has played a couple of friendlies against Liechtenstein, with one of them accounting for the country’s only win.
That seems unfair, but in a sense, Europe’s system is true to the spirit of the World Cup. Pedantic folks will tell you the “World Cup” includes qualifiers, and that the 32-team tournament we see every four years is the “World Cup final.” If you like the idea of every country entering the World Cup if it so chooses (and each time, only a couple of countries pass up the chance), then having San Marino participate in full on the off chance that it might occasionally tie Latvia is a very good thing.
And it leads to wonderful scenes like this — a terrific piece of television from the 90s that some kind person uploaded to YouTube. Learn all about the Faroe Islands: