After reaching their highest position in over half a year and making the second-best jump of any country in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, Luxembourg are finally beginning to make the rest of the football world sit up and take notice.
Though their current placing of 177th (up 14 places from the previous month) is some way short of their best ever ranking of 93rd in April 1996, Luxembourg's recent form has drawn attention from various quarters. "We don't want to finish last all the time," said then-national coach Guy Hellers back in 2008, hinting that qualification for a major international tournament was part of his vision for the future.
The second-smallest state in the European Union has only managed that feat once before, namely at UEFA EURO 1964, where they hit the headlines by reaching the quarter-finals.
Holtz replaces Heller
Luxembourg's most memorable matches in recent times were the 1-0 victory over Belarus in qualifying for EURO 2008, their first win in 55 matches, and more impressively their 2-1 triumph over Switzerland in the most recent FIFA World Cup™ qualification campaign.
"That was a terrible embarrassment! It was one of my worst ever defeats," said Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld at the time. Fortunately for him, die Eidgenossen went on to book their ticket for South Africa 2010, while Luxembourg picked up only two more points against Moldova after a pair of 0-0 draws to finish second-bottom of the standings.
Much has changed in the meantime. Heller stood down from his position in August 2010 to make way for former U-21 coach Luc Holtz, though it would take captain Rene Peters and his colleagues another six months to finally break the 'Swiss curse' which saw them fail to win another match since that sensation of September 2008.
It's important that we are able to prepare properly in the future.
Two matches unbeaten
Indeed, it took until their sixth match under the tutelage of Holtz for Luxembourg to finally celebrate their next victory, a 2-1 win over Slovakia in February 2011. "There's nothing quite like being brought on in a game like that and turning the match with two goals. We were very compact from the start and made life difficult for our opponents. This time we were clinical with our chances," said double goalscorer Daniel da Mota after his side's latest shock win.
"Our training camp clearly paid off. We worked very hard there, and that enabled us to keep pushing on late in the game, and we got our reward. It's important that we are able to prepare properly in the future," said new boss Holtz after his first win at the helm.
Add to that a goalless draw in November 2010 with Algeria, ranked 55th in the world, and Luxembourg are now unbeaten in two matches against teams placed far higher than them in the Ranking.
Surprise against France?
No wonder the Red Lions are now full of enthusiasm ahead of their upcoming EURO 2012 qualifiers. Luxembourg are still searching their first Group D victory following defeats to Bosnia-Herzegovina (0-3), Albania (0-1) and France (0-2), but did manage a point in the 0-0 draw against Belarus.
Next up is a daunting encounter against the French on 25 March. "We have to take the confidence from the Slovakia game into the clash with France and put in a similar showing. They are a different calibre of opponent, but if we can improve on our performance then maybe we can pull off another surprise like the one against Switzerland," added Holtz.