Given that Andorra lies at an average of 1,996m above sea level, it is perhaps unsurprising that the co-principality's most popular sport is skiing. Located in the heart of the Pyrenees between Spain and France, with very few flat spaces within its 468km² territory, this tiny nation continues to battle gamely for a place on the footballing map - even when the visits of big-name teams must be moved to larger venues on Spanish soil.
A FIFA member since 1996, Andorra are currently taking part in their third FIFA World Cup™ qualifying phase. And according to coach David Rodrigo, at the national team helm since 1999, his charges have made genuine progress. "There's been a significant leap in quality. It's true that our infrastructure is lacking, but work is being done to improve that," Rodrigo told FIFA.com.
This progress has been slow but the work of everyone involved bore its most visible fruits in the qualifying phase for Germany 2006, with the national team beating FYR Macedonia 1-0 at home - Andorra's first international victory - as well as claiming a 0-0 draw away to the Macedonians and a 0-0 home draw against Finland. "Of course those results were a turning point for us all. It was something we really yearned for but we also knew how enormously difficult it would be," said Rodrigo. "We finally achieved something that on paper was virtually an impossible mission. We're aware of our limitations and that's one of our biggest virtues."
There's been a significant leap in quality. It's true that our infrastructure is lacking, but work is being done to improve that,
Despite being bottom of Group 6 in the European Zone of South Africa 2010 qualifying, with no points from four games and just one goal scored to 12 conceded, motivation does not appear hard to find for the Andorran players. "Our goal is to achieve moral victories," revealed Rodrigo. "We know that we're not as good as our (qualifying) rivals but we keep working towards making our dream of picking up more points come true. If we did it once, why can't we do it again?" continued the coach, although the fact that Andorra has a total of just 5,000 footballers of all ages and abilities and a completely amateur domestic league with only eight teams does not help his cause.
Nor does the difficulty of the group in which they have been drawn: "In my opinion, Croatia are the strongest rivals. They've got very good individuals, they defend well, attack even better and are lethal on the break," analysed Rodrigo. "They need to make up for their 'slip-up' against England. That victory gave the English the edge in terms of qualifying, but both Croatia and Ukraine are rivals that cannot be discounted. And watch out, Belarus are sure to take points off one of the big boys," he added of a section that also includes Kazakhstan.
Andorra would also dearly love to snatch a point or three from any of their group rivals, an achievement that would only serve to reinforce the considerable self-belief of this humble but hard-working group of players. "We've not got the individual quality to catch opponents off their guard. With our national team, the unit as a whole is key. But we have one thing very clear: whoever wants to beat us is going to have to sweat for it because we intend to make life difficult for them," vowed Rodrigo as a parting shot. And with a coach as bullish as this one, what price Andorra pulling off a shock result or two before qualifying is over?