Liechtenstein will be represented in the top division in Switzerland for the first time next season after FC Vaduz secured promotion from the second tier.
The tiny principality, with a population of just 35,000, is the only UEFA member nation without its own league, with Vaduz having played in the second division in Switzerland since 2001. The club have twice come close to promotion, losing play-off games against Neuchâtel Xamax FC and FC Schaffhausen in 2004 and 2005 respectively, but this season there was to be no heartbreak.
A goalless draw at relegated FC Chiasso on Monday night ensured they will be promoted as league winners. "It was pure adrenaline until the last second, but my team coped with the pressure," said Vaduz coach Heinz Hermann, Switzerland's most capped player with 117 international appearances. "Winning promotion is of course a huge achievement for the club, but now we want to celebrate."
It has already been a season of celebrations for Vaduz, with a 4-0 win against FC Balzers giving them their 37th Liechtenstein Cup – and their eleventh in a row – this season. It has also been a terrific season for the Liechtenstein national team, who enjoyed their best ever year with two wins and a draw in their UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying campaign.
Vaduz may have looked like plucky underdogs in the Swiss Challenge League, but in fact they have the biggest budget of all their league rivals, thanks to a number of lucrative sponsorship deals. "Some people thought that we would have it much easier, but in the end it's the result that matters, and the result is the right one," said Vaduz president Hanspeter Negele.
Credit goes to the club's sporting director Werner Gerber, who took over in April 2006 after guiding FC Thun to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. "I had to build new foundations and make it clear to everyone that they had to be dry before we could continue building on them," he said. Some canny signings, not least that of coach Hermann, paid off this season.
Vaduz's participation in the Swiss league does come with certain conditions. The Liechtenstein side will forego some income from TV and marketing deals and will pay a special fee to the Swiss Football Association to play in the top division, and they cannot be Swiss champions even if they win the league. Their only chance of competing in Europe will remain winning the Liechtenstein Cup.
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