San Marino v Scotland: Another slip-up would be unthinkable for Alex McLeish

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Scotland manager Alex McLeish
Euro 2020 qualifying: San Marino v Scotland
Venue: San Marino Stadium, San Marino Date: Sunday, 24 March Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website; highlights on BBC One Scotland

"Kazakhstan 3-0 Scotland: All in shock"

The headline in one of Kazakhstan's biggest news websites said it all about the almighty capitulation in the mid-Asian outpost that left Scotland's hopes of automatically qualifying for Euro 2020 already on life support.

"The Scots were confused," the match report went on.

Confusion reigned on the pitch, shock reigned off it, but that will be nothing compared to the cataclysmic reaction if Alex McLeish's side fail to win their next one.

San Marino, the mountainous micro-state close to Italy's Adriatic coast, is a world away from the sub-zero Nursultan where hopes of finally ending Scotland's major tournament hiatus were put firmly in cold storage.

There are no easy games, but...

Cyprus' Konstantinos Laifis scores against San Marino
San Marino lost 5-0 to Cyprus on Thursday

The Sammarinese hold the ignominious role of propping up Fifa's world rankings in 211st place and opened their campaign in traditional fashion, a 5-0 thrashing, this time in Cyprus.

"There are no easy games in international football" is a sentence frequently used by international managers, but San Marino away is as close to being immune from that billing as it gets.

A nation that has only ever won one game of football, who concede an average of 4.32 goals per game, who are represented mainly by amateur players and haven't avoided defeat since a 0-0 draw with Estonia in 2014.

That adds up to 28 straight losses, including 10-0 to Croatia, 8-0 to Italy, Germany and Norway and 6-0 to England and Slovenia.

Most Scotland fans would admit that even a 10-0 success for McLeish's team will not exonerate them from what happened on Thursday afternoon.

The stalemate against the Estonians was the only time they have registered a point in European Championship qualifiers.

Sunday will be San Marino's 155th match. They have lost 149 of them. The statistics do not lie on this occasion.

Scotland have been in this tiny enclave of Europe before - three times in fact.

On each occasion, they registered 2-0 victories and, in the most recent of them, under Craig Brown, they left the Scotland fans sweating until breaking the deadlock in the 71st minute through Matt Elliott.

That was with a stronger Scotland side than the one McLeish has cobbled together for this opening double-header.

Passionate whipping boys

Scotland's Dominic Matteo, Colin Hendry and Colin Cameron celebrate against San Marino
Colin Hendry (centre) scored twice when Scotland last played San Marino - a 4-0 win in 2001

Aside from San Marino's solitary victory over Liechtenstein, which came 15 years ago in a friendly, one of their greatest moments was leading England with the second fastest goal in World Cup qualifying history.

Indeed, Davide Gaultieri is still asked for his autograph for his strike against Graham Taylor's team, which came after he latched on to a short pass-back by Stuart Pearce.

It took England 20 minutes to find an equaliser in a game they had to win by seven to stand a chance of reaching the finals in the United States.

They won 7-1. Taylor resigned days later.

Since Gaultieri's goal, each of the 20 times San Marino have found the net has been greeted as if it is the goal that has won the World Cup itself. Case in point, their equaliser in Norway, where they scored away from home for the first time in World Cup qualifying for 15 years during the last campaign.

San Marino may be the official whipping boys of world football, but the passion for the jersey remains.

Every game is like a final for the Sammarinese. The Scotland players must treat them the same way to avoid the unthinkable.

My Scotland XI to face San Marino

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