In Depth

San Marino vs Thomas Muller: Is playing minnows pointless?

German striker sparks row about the merits of World Cup qualifiers involving the smallest teams in Europe

San Marino have struck a blow for footballing minnows by demanding an apology from Bayern Munich striker Thomas Muller in the wake of their predictable 8-0 thrashing at the hands of the world champions Germany on Friday.

After the match Muller said he did not "see the point" of games against teams like San Marino and complained about the risks they posed for the top players.

"I understand that for them it is special to play against the world champions. I understand also that they can only defend with tough tackling," he said. "For this reason, though, I wonder if these are not games which bring unnecessary risks."

Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge added his voice to the German complaints and said: "San Marino has got nothing to do with professional football."

However, their comments have provoked a furious backlash from "European football's most famous minnows", reports the Daily Mirror. Alan Gasperoni, San Marino's director of communications, has issued a fierce ten-point rebuttal to Muller on Facebook.

In it he accuses Germany of "bullying" and reminds them that football is owned "by of all those who love it, among which, like it or not, we are included".

It also points out that Serge Gnabry, who scored a hat-trick on his debut, probably enjoyed the game, and made a more serious point about the money that the match raised being used to support grassroots football in San Marino.

Football writers at the Daily Mail are split on the issue. A straw poll for the paper found very different views around the sports desk.

Matt Barlow agrees with Muller. "Games against teams like San Marino are a complete waste of time and money and do not help international football at a time when it is fighting to salvage its relevance," he says.

Mike Keegan also sides with the Germans. He dubs the games a "waste of time". He described the clashes as "embarrassing" and says "the novelty wore off years ago".

However, Sami Mokbel accuses Muller of being "elitist and selfish", while Rob Draper says: "There has to be a place for smaller nations as it's the essence of the internationalism which underscores the World Cup."

But as the BBC notes San Marino are ranked 201 in the world, 199 places below Germany, making a mismatch unavoidable.

Pitting San Marino against teams like Germany serves no purpose says Dominic King of the Mail. But he has a solution. "Wouldn't it be better if they all contested a group together with the winners getting through to a play-off to face the bigger nations?"

Such a system already exists in some parts of the world. For example in Oceania, where the smallest teams, such as the Cook Islands and American Samoa, compete in pre-qualifying.

Such tournaments are not without drama, and one of the most highly-praised football documentaries ever produced – Next Goal Wins – focuses on the effort of the American Samoan team to make it to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.

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