It is fair to say that Luxembourg do not win very often. In fact, when substitute Fons Leweck struck deep in injury time to give them a 1-0 UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying success in Belarus last October, it was their first competitive victory since 1995. Yet in their opening 2010 FIFA World Cup trip to Switzerland Luxembourg made it two wins in eleven months, triumphing 2-1 – another feather in the cap of coach Guy Hellers.
Hellers took over from Allan Simonsen in 2004, having previously been capped 55 times by Luxembourg and then worked his way up coaching the national youth teams. The former R. Standard de Liège midfielder did not find instant success as Luxembourg lost all 12 of their 2006 World Cup qualifiers and conceded 48 goals. But even before their win in Belarus, Hellers's side had become much tougher to beat, never letting in more than three and only losing 1-0 to the Netherlands – a big improvement on just over a quarter a century ago when they suffered a record-equalling 9-0 defeat in England.
With three points from their opening two 2010 qualifiers, Luxembourg welcome Israel and Moldova next week with serious hopes of adding to that tally for what would be their best qualifying return since Hellers and Co managed ten in their EURO '96™ group. And it is reward for a long-term strategy of the Luxembourg Football Federation (LFF) developing their best youth talents. "We have been working together for three years now and hoped to enjoy such success at some point," Hellers told uefa.com. "
In our EURO campaign we beat Belarus away and now it was Switzerland, all with a very young team; the youngest team in Europe. The work done in Luxembourg is at a good level and as a result you have matches like those against Belarus and Switzerland."
In fact, the roots of success go back to when Hellers first started working for the LFF. For the last few years an LFF football school has been bringing through the nation's best players and last week Luxembourg's junior side moved through from the UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying round, the first time a team from that nation has earned progress on the pitch in a continental youth tournament. Heller explained: "We currently have two full professionals, but our goal is to bring young players through to become professionals playing abroad at professional clubs and then hope they come back as professionals. Maybe we will then have half a dozen professionals like we used to have in the 90s, we got ten points back then."
That said Hellers, who turns 44 on Friday, admits Luxembourg are still some way short of regularly beating the likes of Switzerland. "At the moment we are taking it match by match," Hellers said. "We hope that every player individually and the team as a whole progresses and succeeds, so every match is essential and useful for us. Our goal will be to come third or fourth in a group; it's still not possible and definitely our goal for the future. We don't want to always be last in the group."
Guy Hellers spoke to uefa.com at the 8th UEFA Conference for European National Coaches in Vienna last month.
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