Andorra well used to winless streaks as struggling Ireland come to town

Stephen Kenny’s side can’t contemplate anything other than a win against microstate

Andorra’s Ildefons Lima tackles Switzerland’s Eren Derdiyok during a 2018 World Cup qualifier. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Andorra’s Ildefons Lima tackles Switzerland’s Eren Derdiyok during a 2018 World Cup qualifier. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

 

Willie Whitelaw famously complained that political rival Harold Wilson was “going around the country stirring up apathy.” At a continental level a similar accusation could be made against Ireland who on Thursday visit Andorra during a pandemic to play an end of season friendly match against a microstate in an empty stadium.

If Stephen Kenny is feeling sore about Ireland’s so far pointless World Cup campaign then he should spare a thought for Andorra who, following a 0-0 draw against Finland in 2005, had to wait 4,221 days before they secured their next World Cup qualifying point after another goalless draw with the Faroe Islands in 2017.

In fact Kenny’s win percentage of zero with five draws and six defeats from his 11 matches in charge would be considered an encouraging start in Andorra who had to wait until 2004 for their first competitive victory, beating Macedonia 1-0. After the game the Macedonia manager Dragi Kanatlarovski described the result as “a shameful outcome, a humiliation” and promptly resigned.

Unsurprisingly Andorra are one of the few teams against whom Ireland enjoy a perfect record. The countries were drawn together in qualifying for both the 2002 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships with Ireland winning all four matches and successfully qualifying for both tournaments. Central defender Ildefons Lima played in all four games and briefly silenced Lansdowne Road in April 2001 by putting Andorra ahead with a brilliant header.

Over two decades later and Lima is in the Guinness Book of World Records for enjoying the longest career in international football which started in June 1997. Lima is Andorra’s most capped player (128 appearances) and record scorer (11 goals) and if selected to face Ireland for a fifth time will become only the second player ever to play international football in four different decades (the first being Jari Litmanen who represented Finland between 1989 and 2010). In his first two appearances against Ireland Lima’s central defensive partner was his brother Antoni who is in danger of being considered something of a dilettante in the family having had an international career that lasted a mere dozen years and 64 caps.

The principality’s most famous club are FC Andorra who actually compete in the Spanish League. Unusually the club are owned by a still active footballer having been purchased by Barcelona star Gerard Piqué in 2018. Like many teams FC Andorra have been accused of buying success but for once their critics are talking literally rather than merely metaphorically after they paid £400,000 to buy a promotion in 2019 to fill a vacancy created by the bankruptcy of Reus FC.

Andorran sides have struggled in Europe from the very start with their first representative CE Principat losing 17-0 on aggregate to Dundee United in 1997. The Andorran side were actually named after a local eatery but Uefa refused to allow them compete as ‘the Real Madrid Supporters’ Club of Charlie’s Restaurant’ as they sounded too much like a pub team. For some odd reason an offer to shorten the name to simply ‘Real Madrid’ was also rejected by Uefa.

Dundalk faced Inter Club d’Escaldes in last year’s Champions League qualifiers. Photo: Bagu Blanco/Inpho
Dundalk faced Inter Club d’Escaldes in last year’s Champions League qualifiers. Photo: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

Sadly the fortunes of CE Principat did not improve, losing 14-1 to Ferencvaros and 18-0 to Viking Stavangar in the next two seasons before the club was dissolved in 2015 with the worst European record ever. Over time the performances of Andorran sides improved dramatically with their greatest moment coming in 2014 when FC Santa Coloma actually won a Champions League tie against FC Banants Yerevan thanks to an injury time goal scored by goalkeeper Eloy Casals. This season Andorran and Irish sides met in Europe for the first time when Dundalk’s journey to the group stage of the Europa League began with a 1-0 away victory over Inter Escaldes whose defence was being anchored by the ubiquitous Ildefons Lima.

Despite this progress Andorran sides are still not always shown the respect they deserve. When West Ham were drawn against FC Lusitanos in the Europa League in 2015 the Hammers new manager Slaven Bilic was so underwhelmed he left his first team squad behind at their pre-season training camp in Cork. Bilic did travel back from Ireland for the game but could not muster the enthusiasm to sit on the bench at Upton Park, leaving touchline duties to academy director Terry Westley. This led the visitor’s manager Xavi Roura to accuse Bilic of lacking respect sarcastically suggesting that “maybe he thought he was the Special One.” Ironically West Ham’s 3-0 win would prove significant for Irish football with both Josh Cullen and Darren Randolph making their debuts for the club.

Koldo Álvarez has managed Andorra since 2010 and he will replace Joachim Low as the longest-serving national coach in Europe when the German steps down after this summer’s European Championships. Álvarez won 78 caps as a goalkeeper and in 2003 was nominated as Andorra’s ‘Golden Player’ as their most outstanding performer over the previous 50 years. His international career ended in 2009 with Álvarez receiving a standing ovation at Wembley whilst being substituted with Andorra trailing England 6-0.

Álvarez’s golden year as a manager was 2017 when after seven years in charge he finally saw Andorra win a match when they defeated San Marino 2-0 in a friendly. Later that year Andorra secured their greatest ever result when they beat Hungary 1-0 in a World Cup Qualifier despite completing only 44 passes. Álvarez’s teenage son Iker is also a goalkeeper who won his first senior cap against Poland in March. However his most memorable international performance came last October at Under-21 level when Andorra drew 3-3 with England in a European Championship qualifier.

Should Andorra scale similar heights during Ireland’s trip up the mountains on Thursday then newspaper headlines about going ‘weak at the Pyrenees’ will do little to endear Stephen Kenny’s side to an already apathetic public.

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