It had been a long, long wait but a mere 720 years after the foundation of their mountain nation, Andorra played their first competitive football match as the qualifying tournament for the EURO 2000™ got under way in September 1998.
That first match, in Armenia, set the tone for the next four years – a 3-1 defeat for the tiny Pyrenean country being followed by another 19 more losses in the qualifying competitions for EURO 2000™ and the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
But it was not all doom and gloom for a team with just three professional players. Twice they threatened to embarrass France, the world champions being held for 55 minutes before sneaking a 2-0 win in a Euro 2000™ qualifier in Paris and, even more sensationally, having to rely on an 85th-minute penalty to win the return. Then in the World Cup they almost beat Cyprus – staging a brilliant comeback to lead 2-1 until conceding two late goals, including a last- minute winner, and they also shocked the Republic of Ireland by taking the lead in Dublin, before losing 3-1.
The Andorran Football Federation (FAF), undaunted by the task ahead of them, had signalled their serious intent by appointing a Brazilian coach – Manuel Miluir – to guide them on their first international adventure. His team warmed up for Euro 2000™ qualifying by losing six out of six friendly internationals – including a 3-0 defeat against Brazil - then followed that up by losing their first five matches in Group Four.
“You can’t imagine the difficulties we have in Andorra, simply to raise a team,” Miluir complained, before handing the baton to David Rodrigo, who oversaw the other five defeats as Andorra ended up pointless in the group and with a goal difference of minus 25.
Series of defeats
Apart from the two defeats against France they also lost to Armenia (3-1 away and 3-0), Ukraine (2-0 at home and 4-0) Iceland (2-0 at home and 3-0) and Russia (6-1 away and 2-1).
A series of friendly games leading up to the World Cup qualifying competition saw Andorra go on a run of three games in a row undefeated – two draws (1-1 against Malta and 0-0 against Azerbaijan) followed by their first (and so far only) win in international football – a 2-0 victory over Belarus at the Comunal stadium in Andorra La Vella.
Suitably buoyed up they made an encouraging start to their World Cup campaign. They might have lost their first three games in Group Two - 1-0 in Estonia, 3-2 at home to Cyprus and 2-1 in the return against Estonia – but they were not getting heavily beaten and were actually scoring goals.
Their World Cup adventure was then bizarrely accompanied by a “scandal” in which reports emerged suggesting the Andorrans had been fielding inelligible players. They turned out to be players who had previously played youth football for Spain before the Andorran team had even been formed, in 1994, and who had been cleared by UEFA to play.
Run of defeats
Sadly for Andorra their final seven matches of the group yielded just one more goal (in a 7-1 home defeat by Portugal) as they again ended up pointless - and this time with an even worse goal difference of minus 29.
‘Controlled the game’
Their defeats came against Estonia (2-1 away and 1-0 at home), Cyprus (3-2 at home and 5-0 away - Cyprus’s biggest-ever win), Portugal (3-0 away and 7-1), the Netherlands (5-0 at home and 4-0 away) and the Republic of Ireland (3-0 at home and 3-1 away). “We controlled the game quite well…until we scored,” being Rodrigo’s verdict on the defeat in Dublin .
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