UEFA.com went behind the scenes in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round to find SP Tre Fiori dreaming of sharing a stage with the top teams.
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In the first instalment of our behind-the-scenes documentary, UEFA.com learns how the UEFA Champions League impacts on teams at the other end of the spectrum from FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC.
Just a month after Barcelona were crowned European champions at Wembley, the first four clubs set out on the path to the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League group stage by taking part in the first qualifying round. The lowest-ranked among them, San Marinese champions SP Tre Fiori, were determined to enjoy the experience.
Hailing from Europe's smallest republic, the Tre Fiori players had to take time off work to prepare for their two-legged encounter with Malta's title winners Valletta FC on 28 June and 6 July. Their target was to make it through a round of the elite competition for the first time.
"There are professional footballers who never get to play matches like this," Tre Fiori captain Nicola Canarezza told UEFA.com. "You see the Champions League on TV, when Inter, Milan or Barcelona play, and to do the same thing – walking out of the tunnel, walking onto the pitch, meeting the referees – it's just incredible. It gives you unbelievable energy."
On the eve of the first-leg tie at the San Marino Football Federation (FSGC) headquarters in Serravalle, the importance of Tre Fiori's achievements to the local community was spelled out during a town-hall reception in the City of San Marino. Head of state Filippo Tamagnini welcomed players and officials from the club, as well as from the Apennine republic's UEFA Europa League representatives SP Tre Penne and AC Juvenes-Dogana, to the Palazzo Pubblico building.
"Thanks to the achievements of our athletes, our little state of San Marino is known and respected all over the world," said Tamagnini. "Over the last few years San Marino has managed to grow in reputation on the European and international sports stage. That's all thanks to the efforts and dedication of our athletes, who uphold the values of sport, showing respect for their opponents and for the rules."
For Tre Fiori's Michael Simoncini, the event made a change from his usual experience of the Palazzo Pubblico – the attacking midfielder works there as a security guard. Forward Federico Amici provided an even starker example of the shift in fortunes brought by Tre Fiori's UEFA Champions League participation. The Rimini-beach lifeguard had attended May's Barcelona-Manchester United final with friends; now he was looking to make his own impact on Europe's top club competition.