The Andorran Football Federation (Federació Andorrana de Fútbol or FAF) was founded in 1994 after political developments in the region resulted in independence for the eastern Pyrenean state. After seven centuries under the joint jurisdiction of France and the Spanish diocese of Seo de Urgell, Andorra became a member of the Council of Europe and the United Nations in 1993.
Football in the landlocked principality had hitherto been amateur – a setup based around local teams with links to local businesses. One club, FC Andorra, had experienced more serious competition by playing in Spain's professional leagues from 1948, but it was independence in March 1993 that prompted this country of about 85,000 people to raise their game. Thus the FAF was formed on 21 April 1994.
A key figure in the new football movement was the FAF's founding president Fransesc Vila. Thanks to his efforts the FAF was admitted to FIFA and UEFA in 1996. Sadly, this dedicated administrator died four years later at the age of 35.
Andorran membership of soccer's world and European governing bodies enabled the nation's footballers to compete internationally with club and country. CE Principat, as champions, were the club pioneers, playing in the first qualifying round of the 1997/98 UEFA Cup. The national team made their competitive debut in UEFA EURO 2000 qualifying, beginning with a 3-1 defeat in Armenia on 5 September 1998. Jesús Lucendo scored the goal. Andorra also performed creditably against France, conceding just three goals in two meetings with the FIFA World Cup holders and eventual European champions. They had warmed up for that campaign by hosting Brazil in June 1998, a friendly ending in an honourable 3-0 defeat.
Such exposure to the élite has helped the Andorran game take big steps forward in a small space of time. Top flight, or Primera Divisió, clubs such as UE Sant Julià, FC Santa Coloma, FC Rànger's, FC Encamp, Constellació Esportiva and Principat have seen UEFA tournament action. Ildefons Lima, Marc Bernans, Agusti Pol, Marc Pujol and Antoni Lima were early examples of Andorrans playing abroad.
Another peak in the territory's footballing development was the creation in August 1998 of a national football school, the ENFAF. Its work in coaching the next generation of players has been complemented by the more recent opening of the Centro Deportivo de Alás, which focuses on instilling sporting values. The number of FAF-registered players is at encouraging levels.
Interest in the game certainly sky-rocketed on 13 October 2004 when the national team claimed their first competitive victory, beating FYR Macedonia 1-0 in a FIFA World Cup qualifier in the capital, Andorra La Vella. Marc Bernaus was the history-making marksman. Santa Coloma also recorded a notable first on 19 July 2007: their 1-0 first-leg success at home to Israeli outfit Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC in the UEFA Cup first qualifying round was Andorra's maiden win in European club competition.
That 2007/08 season was also the first in which the Primera Divisió champions entered UEFA Champions League qualifying, rather than qualification for the UEFA Cup (or UEFA Europa League); this meant room in the latter tournament for Andorra's cup winners. It was in the UEFA Champions League that Sant Julià became the first side from the principality to win a European tie, as they overcame San Marinese opponents SP Tre Fiori on penalties in the 2009/10 first qualifying round.
Andorra can be proud of this progress as it aims for realistic targets on and off the field. The FAF will continue to tend the grassroots while seeking to produce young players capable of performing on the international stage.
©UEFA.com 1998-2014. All rights reserved.