With an English BBC Sport correspondent and an England footballer already interviewed, I wanted to speak with someone from the opposing perspective. For this, I went searching for a player that has faced England more than once. I found Mirko Palazzi. The right-back represents SP Tre Penne at club level and has played against England all four times that his beloved San Marino have faced the Three Lions this century. San Marino lost these four games, all under Roy Hodgson, by an aggregated scored of 0-24. Two of those 24 were own-goals, both by the same player…in different games.
Here is Talking International Football, with Mirko Palazzi.
What does it feel like to represent your country?
I am very proud to represent my country. Even if San Marino is a small country, I still have the chance to play World Cup qualifiers, European Championship qualifiers and Nations League matches, just like the big European teams.
How did you first find out that you had been picked to play for San Marino?
I remember it well. The first time I was called by the National A-team was in 2005. I received a letter to my house asking me to play in Sarajevo against Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a great, joyous moment.
Do you go into every game expecting to be beaten, or are there some games that you believe you can win?
All matches start from 0-0. Our hope is always to be able to play the perfect match and win, despite the technical and physical differences between us and our opponents. However, we are improving and I hope to be on the pitch when we next win a match.
What are your memories of playing against Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and England?
I remember the 2012 game against England in particular. It was my first trip to Wembley and came in front of over 80,000 people. I remember Rooney in particular as one of the strongest for his technique. His shooting was incredible.
What do you think of England at the moment? Were you surprised by them getting to the World Cup semi-finals?
I think that England now have a lot of talented young players that can grow and improve. I believe Harry Kane dragged the team all the way to the semi-finals in Russia!
Only fifteen men have ever scored for San Marino. What went through your head when you scored against Azerbaijan in 2017?
When I scored against Azerbaijan, I felt such great personal emotion. Even though the match ended 5-1 to them, I still have the satisfaction of having scored in a World Cup qualifier.
What is your favourite memory of representing San Marino?
For the most beautiful memory, I choose the reception and applause we get from rival fans when we play around Europe. They realise that even though we concede a few goals “too many”, they can still compliment us for our effort and the passion that we put in on the pitch.
Now I appreciate some of the answers are a little short, but it can be hard to find time for long-winded replies during an international break, which is when Palazzi kindly answered my questions. In addition, we conducted the interview in Italian − his native language. Nonetheless, all of his answers are more than insightful and relevant. He proves that it doesn’t matter whether you play for San Marino or Spain: representing your country at the world’s most competitive sport is a dream come true, a real privilege.
Many thanks to Mirko Palazzi − owner of 43 international caps; one of his nation’s only professional footballers; and the top active goalscorer for San Marino, with one goal…