International

Andorra and Luxembourg: Minnows Aim for Deep Water

The Nations League is a bad idea because international football is a dying form. I’ve said it myself countless times – I honestly don’t expect there to be another 10 World Cups that divide their competitors along the lines of nationhood.

Football is only as good as the stories it tells, and international football might peak every few years, but those peaks pale into comparison with the juggernaut that is club football and that is the direction I see the future of the game – super-club franchises in the different continents, giving us a global game that can enjoy support across historic boundaries.

Positivity and progress

Yes, international football is over, because it is only as good as the stories it tells, and what stories will come from this new-fangled Nations League.

Well, maybe I was wrong. Maybe all we needed was for teams to be able to entertain the prospect that they might win, or might lose, in games that didn’t have huge importance, for the football to become infinitely more interesting.

To look back at the history of Andorran football is to look over a litany of disappointing results, ranging from thrashings to beatings, but seldom to anything that looked like positivity and progress. The first game of the Tricolors was a 1-6 home defeat by Estonia back in 1996 and things haven’t often looked much better than that – a FIFA ranking high of 125 does not make for pretty reading.

Yet the principality side are currently on a five game unbeaten streak and sitting pretty in second spot in UEFA’s Nations League D: Group 1, behind Georgia but ahead of Latvia and Kazakhstan. It is something that would be almost unimaginable even 12 months ago.

The Nations League has done something special for Andorra

A team who has lost all 50 of their European Championship qualifying games has actually been able to assert themselves in international games. Andorra are unbeaten in 2018. They have four more games this year, and although two of those are against group leaders Georgia, they might fancy their chances of remaining so.

Coach Koldo Alvarez has been basking in unexpected attention over the last few weeks, but is perhaps the least surprised of anyone at the upturn in his side’s form some eight years into his role.

“It is the result of a number of changes by the federation,” he has explained, “Investment was made to improve coaching and in the youth system, which has allowed us to include several under-21 players in the senior side, including some in the first XI. This blend of youth and experience is producing excellent results.”

Elsewhere in League D, Luxembourg have retained a 100% record in Group 2. Previously a soft touch, and it remains less than a year since Sweden walloped them 8-0, The Red Lions have got used to winning, beating Georgia, Moldova and San Marino in quick succession having disposed of Hungary and Belarus in recent times, too.

For these teams, and for these countries, the Nations League might be a trinket issued by Michel Platini for their favour but, used to their advantage it represents an opportunity not just to demonstrate how far they have progressed but to allow them to dream of a position at the Euro 2020 finals.

2018 is becoming quite a year for Luxembourgish football

As well as their national side becoming a force, club side F91 Dudelange have reached the Europa League group stages, the first side from the LND to do so.

Coach Paul Philipp is at the forefront of this, yet he, like his Andorran counterpart, seems at ease with his team’s start.

“The victory in San Marino was expected,” he has explained.”For me, the match against Moldova was a bit like a cup match, that’s the game I was waiting for. Both teams were starting even and we do not know what would have happened if they had taken the lead. In this case, are we able to do a second half like the one we did?”

“I thought more than we could count four points after those first two games. With six points on the clock, it’s the ideal start.”

Philipp, like Alvarez, has tried to instil a different belief in his players and has seen it pay off in recent weeks.

“Certainly,” he concludes, “young players have evolved – mostly mentally. When the boys go abroad to the pro clubs, even if they do not play in the first team, it is also a continuation of the training done in our football school.

“We want to give them a certain mentality, that of not going on the pitch for damage limitation. I do not want to start a controversy with the San Marino, but we saw, and from the beginning of the match, that the goalkeeper was looking to waste time, just like we have done before. It happens in their heads, as young people are disappointed when they are beaten.”

With good opening fixtures behind them, previous competitions would see months drift by before the next relevant football is played. Not so the Nations League. October brings two more rounds of fixtures, with the final two group games played in November. Six games over three months; plenty of time to retain momentum but not so much time to pick it up.

Andorra and Luxembourg might not be the most fashionable names in world football, and they might not even be the most likely to benefit from the Nations League, but when the next round of fixtures comes around, they are surely two of the more interesting teams to look out for.

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