Aldo Junior Simoncini has spent the majority of his career in the lower reaches of the Italian football system. At international level however the goalkeeper has amassed 52 caps for his country, San Marino where he has come up against some of the biggest names in the world.

Guarding the net for one of the lowest ranked teams in the world is no easy feat where heavy defeats are more or less a certainty. Despite never appearing on the winning side with La Serenissima, Simoncini still has great pride in donning the No. 1 jersey for the principality.

“I was born in San Marino and I gave everything to win my place in the side and defend my country’s colors,” he told FIFA.com, swatting away the idea that his is a thankless role. “Of course I experience more difficulties than the goalkeepers of more prestigious nations, but I accept that without problem.”

“Nobody likes to lose, ourselves included, but we’re fully aware of our limitations,” he explained. “We’re all players of a certain level, and we know there’s a gap between ourselves and the teams we have to face. There’s too big a difference between the life we lead and that of our opponents, who are mostly professionals whereas we have to work in the daytime before going to training.” 

Simoncini, like the majority of his international team mates, is a semi-professional player where his day job is as a computer engineer. A weekends the goalkeeper currently plays on goal for  Libertas in the Sammarinese league but admits that it is international football which really feeds his appetite. “The quality of our championship isn’t very high, so it’s always more gratifying to come up against teams with top-class players,” he said.

Despite conducting one of the toughest jobs in football, Simoncini has has now shared the pitch with a long list of illustrious names, and his highlights include swapping shirts with his idol, Gianluigi Buffon, crossing paths with Manuel Neuer and, above all, trying to defy the best forwards in the game.

“I’ve been up against several high-quality players, but Wayne Rooney was undoubtedly the most impressive,” he explained. He has fond memories of the whole England side, recalling “a team of gentlemen who treated us with respect by playing against us as if we were on the same level.”

Simoncini, 30, will share the 2018 World Cup Qualifying Campaign with his twin brother Davide who plays center-back for the national side. San Marino begin their qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia against Azerbaijan at the Stadio Olimpico in Serravalle. “Our opponents are favorites on paper, but this is without doubt the game where we’ll have to take a few more risks than usual,” he said.

“But that doesn’t mean we’ll finish ahead of them in the table – there’s still a gap.” The challenge will not get easier, either, with San Marino also drawn against the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway and world champions Germany in Group C.

The qualification games against Germany will rekindle memories of San Marino’s heaviest defeat, 13-0 versus Die Mannschaft in 2006. We didn’t manage to do much against them and they blew us away, yet they also showed us a lot of respect because they played their game right up to the end,” Simoncini explained. “We did everything within our power, but we know that’s the price you sometimes pay against big teams.”

Despite the result, Simoncini found much to be grateful for during the game. Not only was he representing his country for the first time, his very presence brought an end to a long and torturous two-year ordeal – his career having hung in the balance after a serious car accident that left him with a fractured elbow and pelvis. Completely unable to move for four months, he was told he may never play football again, or even regain the ability to walk properly.

“It’s true that it was a little special for me, but I don’t think my team-mates have very fond memories of it. And though I was happy to be back playing, I could have done without the 13 goals.”

Quick Facts

  • San Marino currently sit 200th in the FIFA rankings, above Eritrea, Djibouti and Andorra but below Macau, Nepal and Liechtenstein.
  • San Marino have won one game in their history, beating Liechtenstein 1-0 in a friendly in 2004.
  • Aldo and Davide Simoncini both scored own goals in a 6-0 defeat to Sweden in 2010, a world first.
  • San Marino has a population of just 32,000, less than half of Wembley Stadium’s capacity.
  • The 39 goals scored by Holland in six games against San Marino is a record.
  • Davide Gaulteri’s strike after seven seconds against England in 1993 remains the quickest ever in World Cup qualifying, they went on to lose the match 7-1.
  • San Marino’s 13-0 defeat at home to Germany is the largest ever margin of victory in World Cup Qualifying.