San Marino goalkeeping coach Marco Ragini has told uefa.com that the republic's recent showings against Poland and Slovakia in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying are proof that "football is growing fast" in the landlocked enclave.
The republic started their World Cup Group 3 campaign with a 2-0 loss to Poland in September and a 3-1 defeat by Poland earlier this month, also in Serravalle. Those two results, rather than the subsequent 4-0 reverse in Northern Ireland, give Ragini optimism for the future of Sammarinese football. "It is still a great honour for me to work with the national team," he told uefa.com. "I'm sure we will achieve good results sooner or later. We went very close in our recent World Cup qualifiers against Poland and Slovakia, showing that our football is growing fast."
The defeats nonetheless left San Marino bottom of a section also featuring the Czech Republic and Slovenia – with no points, one goal scored and nine conceded. To compound matters, captain Andy Selva had to be substituted at half-time in Northern Ireland on 15 October because of a serious injury. "Andy is so important to us, not only because of his great ability as a footballer but also because he is a real professional and a great example to the youngsters," said Ragini, who combines national-team duties with a similar role at Swiss top-flight club AC Bellinzona.
Ragini is confident the presence of Sammarinese sides in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup will also help improve the domestic league, the Campionato. Earlier this term, Ragini became the first coach from the European microstate to progress a round in UEFA club competition when continental debutants Bellinzona beat Armenia's FC Ararat Yerevan 4-1 on aggregate prior to ousting FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk on away goals in the UEFA Cup second qualifying round.
"I wanted to develop professionally and I decided to make this big step by moving to Switzerland," added Ragini, who joined Bellinzona ahead of the 2007/08 campaign. "We got promoted to the top division during my first season and also reached the final of the Swiss Cup for the first time since 1969. We faced a big club, Basel, and even though we lost we still had the chance to play in the UEFA Cup qualifying rounds."
Bellinzona's European adventure was stopped in the first round by 1999/2000 UEFA Cup winners Galatasaray AŞ, but still it "was a great experience" for Ragini and company. "There is great camaraderie at the club," he said, "and they have also given me the chance to attend a top-level course for goalkeeping coaches. I think there are good possibilities to grow here." The same can be said of football in San Marino.
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