Two-time motorcycling world champion Manuel Poggiali is already a sporting hero in San Marino but now has a new challenge with a squad making their debut in Futsal EURO qualifying.
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Already sure of a place in San Marino's sporting annals after winning two Grand Prix motorcycling world championships, Manuel Poggiali now has a new challenge. "Motorbikes are the past for me," he told UEFA.com. "Now futsal is my sport."
Poggiali was the 125cc world champion in 2001 and took the 250cc title two years later, becoming at 20 the second youngest rider after Valentino Rossi to win both championships. He retired from motorcycling in 2008 following more than 130 top-level races and took up futsal, initially just to keep fit, but it soon became more serious.
Now 27, he has been called into the squad for the new San Marino team's first UEFA European Futsal Championship qualifiers, taking place in Cyprus from Thursday. "Futsal gives me a lot of satisfaction," Poggiali said. "I can see that I'm improving; after every single training session I can see my progress. It's a great feeling for me".
Although the San Marino Football Federation (FSGC) has been organising domestic futsal since 2006, the national team only made their full international debut last month with two losses to Montenegro, having previously played Italian club teams. Now they are ready for their competitive bow against Cyprus, Albania and Finland in preliminary round Group E and Poggiali cannot wait.
"Representing your county is always a unique experience. It's something that fills you with pride. That's why I'm giving my all every day to make this squad," said Poggiali, who has yet to miss any of San Marino's matches. "I scored two in a friendly game against Cesena," added the S.S. Pennarossa player. "They are a team who play in Serie C in Italy. I'm sure I have taken many steps in the right direction since my first futsal game."
Having someone with experience of top-level international sport should be a boon to San Marino, and there is no danger of Poggiali being blasé. "Actually before the friendly game against Montenegro, I was the most excited of all the squad," he said. "We don't have much experience at this level but there is great room for improvement and I believe I can make a contribution to the team."