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Solid foundations bolster San Marino

Football in San Marino has developed slowly over the years, but has established a firm base.

The San Marino national team before a friendly against Italy in 2017
The San Marino national team before a friendly against Italy in 2017 ©FSGC/Pruccoli

Football began to develop in San Marino in the late 1920s. The first club, AC Libertas, were founded in September 1928 and the San Marino Football Federation (FSGC) followed three years later. It was only in summer 1937 that an official competition emerged, however, as four teams – Libertas, La Castellana, SP La Fiorita and US Titania (now SP Tre Penne) – contested the inaugural tournament, the Coppa Titano, played to a league format.

All matches were staged at the Borgo Maggiore, then the republic's only stadium, and Libertas triumphed. They confirmed their top-club status by winning the next five Coppas, the last of which arrived as late as 1961 because of a long hiatus spanning the war years.

In 1960 the FSGC launched a club side, SS Serenissima, to play their football in Italy. Initially presided over by administrator Carlo Casali, the team started out in the Italian amateur league's second division, achieving their first promotion in 1962. They spent two seasons in the semi-professional Serie D before merging with another club in 1973 to become AC San Marino. Then, in 1988, with the side in Serie C2, they were renamed San Marino Calcio.

In 1963 the FSGC established the Nucleo Addestramento Giovani Calciatori – the territory's first youth football academy – overseen by Guglielmo Giovannini, a committed and respected figure in the San Marinese game. The Coppa Titano underwent a major expansion too with new clubs admitted; the last newcomer was SS Cosmos in 1979.

Come 1980 and the FSGC was developing the idea of an official domestic league, considered necessary if the country was to gain recognition from football's governing bodies. The new league competition, the San Marino Championship, was launched in October 1985. That year also witnessed the birth of the Trofeo Federale, a Super Cup pitting league champions against Coppa Titano holders.

FSGC efforts to obtain UEFA membership were finally rewarded in 1988 when, after two years' probation, the organisation was fully welcomed into the UEFA fold at the Congress in Monaco on 24 January. Six months later, FIFA extended its welcome at a Congress in Zurich.

San Marino could now send representative sides into action at senior, Under-21, U18 and U16 levels. The republic's international debut came in an U21 game against Switzerland in Serravalle on 6 June 1989. The Swiss were again in opposition when the full national team debuted at the same venue on 14 November 1990 in a 4-0 defeat. The first positive result was a 0-0 stalemate with Turkey on 10 March 1993, the next a 1-1 draw against Latvia in Riga on 25 April 2001.

More milestones were attained in European club competition in the new millennium. San Marino had a first participant – SS Folgore – in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Cup in season 2000/01. Then, in 2007, the republic was allotted a second European place, for the UEFA Champions League qualification stage, with SS Murata the first standard-bearer. In 2007/08 Libertas registered the first draw for a Sammarinese club at continental level, in UEFA Cup qualifying versus Drogheda United FC, while in 2013/14 Tre Penne posted the first ever win – 1-0 in their UEFA Champions League first qualifying round second leg against FC Shirak of Armenia.

Further indicators of growth were the official visits to the FSGC undertaken by delegations from FIFA in October 2000 and UEFA in November 2005. UEFA President Michel Platini followed the same path in 2008 to open the federation's new Casa del Calcio headquarters.

Between 2004 and 2009 the FSGC conducted an ambitious overhaul of its sporting infrastructure with the construction of third and fourth-generation artificial pitches. The clearest sign of progress was the laying of state-of-the-art Football Green Live turf at the Serravalle Stadium: the world's first reinforced natural grass pitch.

In November 2014 the national side, coached by Pierangelo Manzaroli, collected a point in UEFA European Championship qualification for the first time with a goalless draw at home to Estonia, which ended a 61-game losing streak.