In contrast with their struggles on the football scene, Andorra enter next week's UEFA European Futsal Championship qualifying round as strong competitors.
Earning a place in the November finals in Porto will not be easy though - not only will they have to take on Ukraine, semi-finalists in 2005 and runners-up in the two previous editions, but also strong opposition in Slovakia and Israel. And Carles Riba, who has coached Andorra for most the period since their competitive debut in the 1999 European Championship - where they beat Slovakia 6-4 - is not optimistic but is looking forward to the games at the Pavelló del Govern in Andorra La Vella from 26 February to 1 March. "It's an attractive event for Andorra," Riba told uefa.com. "We'll see if we can play a decent part although I think the favourites are Ukraine while we're last, but it would be good to win a match and give our fans something to cheer."
In 2005 qualifying, Andorra overcame Cyprus 4-2 but then lost to Moldova and Portugal, and since then friendlies have been hard to come by - all they have to show for the last 12 months are a defeat and draw against Belgium followed by two losses to Romania. "We've had trouble finding opponents," Riba said. Still, the coach has been involved in futsal for a quarter of a century, having had success with FC Andorra in the strong Spanish club game, and local journalist Sergi Cano said of his squad: "They fight and fight and fight. They are well-organised in defence, keep tight in their own half, make the most of the counterattacks and work hard at set-pieces."
De la Rosa return
Riba's men, a mixture of local-based amateurs and players from the Spanish leagues, have also been boosted by the decision of Xavier de la Rosa to come out of retirement, having stopped playing some years ago to concentrate on coaching in Italy. The other key players are goalkeeper Sergi Babot and Miguel Blázquez, though the latter will only be available for the last game against Ukraine due to a two-match suspension. "It's important for me to have players in the Spanish league, the best league in the world and the best national team in the world, and it adds quality to the side," the coach noted. However, FC Andorra are now struggling in the lower reaches of Spanish football, as are other clubs from the principality, and Riba has a problem compared with other countries who have been able to gain citizenship for Brazilians and others who have done well in their local competition. "You have to wait 20 years to get Andorran citizenship if you're a foreigner, so I don't have much to pick from and it's tough to get good results," Riba explained.
Still, they should be able to get support for their upcoming matches. "The national team hasn't played for such a long time that people are probably eager to see them play again," Cano said. Especially if they repeat their performance when staging a 2001 qualifying group - when Andorra defeated Latvia and Finland to set up a last-day decider against Ukraine, who won and went all the way to the final. A good omen perhaps for both top seeds in Group B.