A 0-0 draw against England has lifted F.Y.R. Macedonia's spirits, but they have good reason to be wary of today's UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifier against Andorra.
The most important date in the Andorran footballing calendar is 13 October. It was on that date that the nation won their first competitive game, ten years after the Andorran Football Federation was founded, defeating F.Y.R. Macedonia 1-0 in a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier. The Macedonians went into that match fresh from an impressive 2-2 draw at eventual Group 1 winners the Netherlands but left the Estadi Comunal under a huge cloud after Marc Bernaus's goal on 60 minutes set up one of the biggest shock results of recent times.
"I noticed that they were relaxed and only came to Andorra with a 16-man squad, thinking they would win easily," Andorra coach Rodrigo recalled to uefa.com. "It was the perfect match. We played very well and we made the most of the craftiness that humble teams have." Looking back, Bernaus told uefa.com that he remembered preparing for the game "like any other match". According to their usual plan, Andorra stood firm in defence until midfielder Bernaus - now 29 - controlled a long throw before hitting a shot which was deflected beyond goalkeeper Jane Nikoloski.
Andorra somehow weathered the next 30 minutes and joy was unconfined at full-time. "It was incredible," said Bernaus. "My team-mates were crying and because I had scored it made it all the more impressive. That victory meant a lot for people who have suffered playing matches in stadiums all over Europe." Andorra have known suffering like few others in European football. The tiny nation are used to counting anything other than heavy defeats as moral victories, and they have seen plenty of heavy defeats - not least a 7-0 reverse against Croatia in their last Group E qualifier on Saturday.
The Macedonians will have more reason than most to want an emphatic win against the Pyrenean nation. As if losing against Andorra were not bad enough, they were held to a 0-0 draw at home when the sides met again in Skopje in February 2005 as Rodrigo's men avoided defeat in an away game for the first time.
"I imagine they were quite angry about the defeat," said Bernaus. "Looking back, we were their nightmare opponents that year because we drew in the return leg. I think that the 0-0 draw was even more commendable than our victory at home because the pitch was frozen. It was a very tough match for us."
Rodrigo admitted that he was not too thrilled when his side were drawn against F.Y.R. Macedonia for the UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifiers, saying: "We achieved such good results against them in the past that I didn't want to be in the situation where all that could be spoiled." Txema García has returned to his squad since the defeat against Croatia, but with Juli Fernández suspended, it may be a damage limitation operation. "I don't want us to give up halfway through," said Rodrigo. "They must only look at the scoreboard at the end and carry on playing like is the first minute."
However, as F.Y.R. Macedonia know all too well, even tiny Andorra can spring surprises. "If our opponents play at 100 per cent then we can't do much about it, but if they don't respect us then that's when we can surprise them like we did two years ago," said Rodrigo.
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