By Ernst Hasler
The last two rounds of 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers may well be forgotten by most by the time that the finals in Germany draw near, but for Liechtenstein, the two games that the national team played on 9 and 13 October are destined to live long in the memory.
Having showed incredible courage and commitment to come back from 2-0 down to secure a 2-2 draw against UEFA EURO 2004™ hosts Portugal in Vaduz - a result that may be remembered as the best in Liechtenstein's history - Martin Andermatt's team then secured their first-ever away win, a 4-0 triumph in Luxembourg.
Trailing at half-time to a Pauleta strike and an own goal by Daniel Hasler, Liechtenstein clawed back goals through Franz Burgmeier and Thomas Beck to earn the nation's first ever World Cup qualifying point. No small achievement considering that, with a population of around 35,000, Liechtenstein had lost their previous 20 competitive games.
"A dream has come true," said Liechtenstein captain Hasler after the game at the Rheinpark Stadion. "We have always worked very hard and with great determination in order to achieve such a success one day. We have made a lot of progress over the past seasons, but we often needed too many chances.
This is emotion in its purest state and the atmosphere was simply great. The supporters made a great contribution. The first highlight came when we reduced the score to 2-1. But after the equaliser the emotions for all of us were so great that we all gave everything to hold this result."
Midfield player Martin Stocklasa was stunned, saying: "We were 2-0 behind and drew the match - and this against Portugal - it's sensational." Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari added: "We have to pay them the respect they deserve, congratulations to Liechtenstein for this great performance."
Prior to Saturday, Liechtenstein's finest hour had been a 2-1 win against Azerbaijan in a UEFA EURO 2000™ qualifier on 14 October 1998, six years after the Liechtenstein Football Association became a member of UEFA. However, success is becoming a habit for Andermatt.
'We only got a draw'
"I am personally very satisfied," said the coach, who achieved a major first earlier this season by winning a first European tie with his club side, FC Vaduz. "We're very proud of the achievement and deserve respect for what we have done. However, we only got a draw."
That final comment sounded like tongue-in-cheek humour, but after a goal from Stocklasa, two from Burgmeier and a Mario Frick penalty saw Luxembourg put to the sword at the Josy Barthel stadium on Wednesday, it seemed like Andermatt's words were a bold statement of intent.
'A great day'
"The draw against Portugal gave my team a mental advantage over Luxembourg," Andermatt said after securing three points. "They all played with great concentration from the first minute, so the goals were the logical consequence. Credit must go to all members of the team. This is a great day for Liechtenstein."
A great day for Liechtenstein - ranked 151st in the world - and a miserable one for 155th-ranked Luxembourg and their Danish coach Allan Simonsen. "This is the worst day in my career as a coach," said the one-time European Footballer of the Year.
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