Gualtieri stuns England

England face San Marino at Wembley next month as they continue their Euro 2016 qualification campaign.

It will be the fifth time the two nations have met – the other four games have been World Cup qualifiers – and England have won each time, scoring a total of 26 goals in the process.

However, one of those games, back in 1993, was the scene of one of England’s most infamous moments. 

England v San Marino

Euro 2016 Qualifying
Group E
Wembley Stadium Connected by EE
Friday 9 October 2014
Tickets on sale at TheFA.com/Tickets

After a disappointing qualifying campaign for the 1994 World Cup, Graham Taylor’s side went into their final match needing to beat San Marino by seven goals and hope Holland failed to beat Poland in the other game in the group that night if they were to reach the USA. 

All the pre-match talk had been of whether England had the goals in them. And then…

“Welcome,” the radio commentator Jonathan Pearce said as the game kicked off, “to Bologna on Capital Gold for England versus San Marino with Tennent’s Pilsner, brewed with Czechoslovakian yeast for that extra Pilsner taste… and England are one down.”

Massimo Bonini and Nicola Bacciocchi had taken the kick-off. The ball was knocked to Pier Angelo Manzaroli who returned it to the advancing Bacciocchi. 

He saw Davide Gualtieri making a run from the right and tried to play a through-ball. He over-hit it, though, allowing Stuart Pearce to intercept. The left-back tried to play it back to David Seaman but his pass allowed Gualtieri in to stab the ball past the goalkeeper. 

At 8.33 seconds from kick-off to the ball crossing the line, it remains the fastest goal in World Cup history. For Gualtieri the memories remain clear. 

“We were playing in Bologna at Stadio Renato Dall’Ara because hooliganism was still a problem in that period and we had to play there for safety reasons,” he said. 

“I didn’t even realise how quick the goal was. I think I was a bit lucky although I reckon I also believed I could score. Let’s say it was a mix of luck and self-belief. 

“But it was only after the game, with all the journalists pouring down on me, I realised how historic it had been. Still, I probably only realised what had happened days later.”

Pearce was gracious enough to swap shirts with Gualtieri after the game. “I still have to frame it,” Gualtieri said, “but it will soon be hung on my wall along with dozens of others – Finland, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland. 

“Pearce and the rest were more angry with each other than with me. Tension was really high because they had to win by a seven-goal margin, hoping that Poland did the job against Holland – which they didn’t. 

England bench in San Marino, 1993

England’s bench in San Marino

“After the game, some relatives that used to own a restaurant in England sent over a copy of the Daily Mirror to me with the front page that read ‘End of the World’ with my picture on it. 

“I was running with joy, while Des Walker was despairing in the background. We knew that the England side was by far bigger and stronger than us – Les Ferdinand looked like he was taking the lift when jumping in the air – but in that picture Walker really dwarves me.”

Given Gualtieri would be unknown in football were it not for that record, does he find himself watching a games and counting to nine? 

“Not really!” he laughed. “It’s great to think it was such an achievement though. Sometimes I go on Youtube and watch it – I still had hair, which cheers me up! I also have a VHS of the game. 

“More often that you’d think, there are fans who come into my electronics shop and ask me for an autograph. There are some guys from eastern Europe who send me letters and e-mails asking for autographs.”

In 2000 Gualtieri was presented with a silver medal by the San Marino Olympic Association and in 2012 the football federation gave him a commemorative plaque. 

“I think that goal acquired more value also because Hakan Sukur scored a goal after ten seconds for Turkey in 2002 against South Korea, and that was the fastest ever in a World Cup,” he said. 

“Obviously, scoring against England, it was quite an achievement to be honest. When a new record emerges, Gazzetta dello Sport mentions my goal too.”

Even if a faster goal is scored, Gualtieri will always have his place in English history. 

For the first time in 16 years, England failed to qualify for the World Cup and six days after the game, Taylor resigned.

England’s next clash with San Marino is at Wembley Stadium on Thursday 10 October. Tickets are available to buy online from www.TheFA.com/tickets.
Ticket prices: £25, £35, £45 & £55 (Family enclosure – £20 adults/£10 children under 16)
A £10 discount is available for OAPSs, students and U16s elsewhere in the stadium
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