By Ernst Hasler
For a side that had never previously won a game in European competition, Liechtenstein's UEFA Cup representatives FC Vaduz's celebrations following their 1-0 win against Longford Town FC last Thursday were surprisingly muted.
Having tasted success by winning the Liechtenstein Cup to claim the tiny state's only place in European competition, supporters of Vaduz were expecting to see their side end their winless European run in style with a comfortable victory over the Irish Cup winners.
But the desired deluge of goals never came and after a tight match Vaduz were grateful for substitute Michele Polverino's 77th-minute strike which sealed their first European victory in 21 attempts.
We are satisfied and happy with the result, but not with the performance," said coach Martin Andermatt. "Everyone expects a big event when Vaduz are playing and we played against an opponent who are deep into the season while we are just starting preparations. The most important thing is that we won."
"In the past few years we came close to a win, but then we would lose or draw," added Liechtenstein international Daniel Hasler. "We did not show what we could do today, but we won and created a good platform for the return leg. Maybe we thought that we would win easily but the Irish are very robust."
Liechtenstein Cup winners used to play in the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, and it was in that competition that FC Balzers won what stood for a long time as the nation's only success in Europe, beating Albanian side KS Albpetrol Patosi 3-1 in 1993/94. A 0-0 draw in the second leg saw Balzers progress to a second-round tie against Bulgaria's PFC CSKA Sofia - and a one-sided 11-1 aggregate defeat.
Three years later, Vaduz won through a first round Cup Winners' Cup tie against Latvia's FK Universitate Riga, winning 4-2 on penalties after 1-1 draws in both legs. That earned them a second-round meeting with Paris Saint-Germain FC which the French side won 7-0 on aggregate.
The Cup Winners' Cup was mothballed in 1998/99 and ever since Liechtenstein Cup winners have played in the UEFA Cup. On all six occasions since then, Vaduz have won the Liechtenstein Cup and their European results have improved steadily.
In 2000/01 they drew 3-3 against Poland's KS Amica Wronki in the course of a 6-3 aggregate defeat, then a year later they drew 3-3 at home against Croatia's NK Varteks, only to lose the return leg 6-1. The following season they drew 1-1 and 0-0 against Scotland's Livingston FC, but were knocked out on away goals.
Two 1-0 defeats against Ukraine's FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk were no disgrace last season as Vaduz came close to earning a place in the Swiss top flight. Finishing second in the Swiss second division, they played off against Neuchâtel Xamax FC for a place in the top division but lost 4-1 on aggregate.
Such success has raised expectations, and Vaduz have not lost hope for the second leg against Longford. "We can be very satisfied with the result," said captain Martin Stocklasa. "It was positive that we scored and that we did not concede a goal." A similar result in Ireland next Thursday would see the celebrations start in earnest.
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