If you think of football in Liechtenstein, you cannot help but think of Mario Frick. No player has made his mark on the game in the 'Ländle' (little country) like the striker, who will become the first player to represent his nation for the 100th time on Wednesday when Liechtenstein play a friendly against Switzerland – the country where Frick had his first taste of professional football.
Frick was already a senior international when he was taken on by FC St Gallen in 1994. "My first league game was a defining moment for me," reflects the 37-year-old. He soon established himself in Switzerland while becoming a talisman for his country, scoring his first international goal in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Romania in September 1997.
Moves to FC Basel 1893 and FC Zürich followed, before he decided to chance his arm in Italy. After starting out in the third tier, Frick worked his way up to Serie A, when he was brought by Hellas Verona FC to play alongside Adrian Mutu. "
After my first goals in Italy the media became interested in me and Liechtenstein. It was then that I realised I could really make it."
Longer spells at Ternana Calcio and AC Siena followed, while the forward started to inspire some notable results at international level. Ever the minnows, wins were few and far between for Liechtenstein, but Frick's strike helped them beat Latvia in a UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier – the first time his nation had defeated a side with major international tournament experience.
Then there was the 2-1 defeat by Austria in 2006, a game regarded one of Frick's best in the national shirt as Liechtenstein dominated; they were unlucky to lose. Yet again, it was Frick who supplied his team's goal, but as is often the case with one of UEFA's smallest nations, conceding late ultimately proved decisive.
The biggest problem for our national team is that we can only keep up with the pace for around 60 minutes as most of our players play in the third tier," Frick said after Liechtenstein relinquished an added-time goal to lose 2-1 against Scotland last September, another game they led going into the last half-hour.
Nevertheless, Frick can look back with pride at his career. "For a footballer from Liechtenstein, I have gone far," he said before a 2008 friendly with Germany. "I am pleased. It is of course an adjustment when you come to our national team from a Serie A outfit. We concede many goals, a huge difference to Italy."
Now back in Liechtenstein with his first club, FC Balzers, he is not ready to call it a day just yet. "Further highlights await," said Frick, his country's all-time leading scorer with 16 goals, more than double any other player. "The national team is important for me, so I would not exclude the possibility of playing another qualification campaign."
However, Frick has suggested he may retire and give the benefit of his rich experience to Liechtensteiner youngsters. For a player who asked to be substituted during a EURO qualifier against Sweden so he could be fresh for the next game against Iceland – one they won 3-0 – it would not be a surprising move from a player who has always appreciated the bigger picture.
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