Alessandro Della Valle was back in his office at a ceramics retailer on Wednesday, his international football career a little less unsung.

The night before, he'd scored the first goal in five long years for tiny San Marino, a punch bag of European football.

The 2014 World Cup qualifier against Poland ended as they almost always do for the speck of a republic - with a loss. Only, for once, the score wasn't something massive to nil.

With his first-half header off a free kick, Della Valle made the final score a somewhat less embarrassing 5-1, earning the amateur player the admiration of co-workers when he rolled back into the office.

''They welcomed me like a national hero. It was strange,'' he said in a phone interview.

Landlocked San Marino sits atop a hill in central Italy near Rimini and the Adriatic coast. It has a population of only 32,000, with just 1,586 of them registered as footballers, according to governing body FIFA.

Along with the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and the Turks and Caicos Islands east of Cuba, San Marino sits at the very bottom of FIFA's world rankings.

Mirko Palazzi is the only professional player on the otherwise completely amateur team that lost to Poland, said Alan Gasperoni, who volunteers his spare time to act as the team's press officer.

San Marino has never won a competitive encounter. Its only victory, 1-0 against Liechtenstein in 2004, was in a friendly.

Della Valle's goal was his first for the national team, only the 15th ever for San Marino in official competition, and the first since Andy Selva scored in a 3-1 loss to Slovakia in 2010 World Cup qualifying.

''Just scoring at all for our team is a dream, but for a defender it's something nearly unimaginable. So it was incredible,'' said the 31-year-old.

His joy was short-lived. Poland captain Jakub Blaszczykowski put his team back ahead just one minute after Della Valle leveled the score on 1-1.

But after the match, Della Valle's equalizer ensured the beer and pizza shared by the San Marino team went down a little easier.