Santos: My Luxembourg players think about football night and day
Luxembourg to take part in Women's World Cup qualifying for first time
Daniel Santos has been coach of the women's national team since 2020
"We may be able to scrape a point here and there," he says
In Germany, one in seven registered players is female, equating to some 1.1 million women and girls active in the game there. That figure is almost twice the entire population of Luxembourg, which borders Belgium, France and Germany. And while Die Nationalelf have never missed an edition of a FIFA Women's World Cup™, the Grand Duchy’s national team are preparing to take part in the qualifiers for the global event for the first time.
"We’re very much looking forward to them," Daniel Santos, coach since August 2020, tells FIFA.com. "We discussed it for a long time within the association and with our president because we were unsure whether or not we should do it. We knew that we’d draw two or three big teams and that there could be some major setbacks, but that’s the way it is. We’re not at the required level yet. However, we’d have the same problem if we did it in two years’ time. There will always be some doubts, but you have to start at some point."
For Luxembourg, that start involves fixtures against England, Austria, Northern Ireland, Latvia and North Macedonia, which are the only team in this group beneath them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking. "It's a very appealing group," says Santos. "We may be able to scrape a point here and there. It’s important for us to get that first experience under our belts.
"We have an average age of just 21, which, while very young, will stand us in good stead for the next qualifiers and the future. It’s important that we start accruing experience and begin the learning process now. But I’m also convinced that we can spring a surprise or two, even if it is just in our play and not necessarily in terms of points." Indeed, it is not just the players who are young, but the team itself, having only been created in 2003.
That said, what matters now is the continuous development of women's football in Luxembourg and creating a solid player base. This is also part of Santos’ remit as head of the women’s youth teams at the association.
"Right now, what we really want to do is drive the women's game forward and increase its presence in schools. We want to show kids that girls can and should play football. During one scouting exercise in Luxembourg, we discovered 70 talented girls, who now attend training once a week. The best will then progress to our U-12s and so on," he explains, before highlighting some of problems still to be overcome.
"So far, we’ve established U-14, 15, 16 and 17 teams. However, we’re still lacking several age categories. For example, we don't have sufficient players for a U-19 side. In some ages, the players are simply not there. That said, we’ve now taken the first steps, and I’m delighted that next year we’ll have additional categories, like U-12 and U-13."
Also noteworthy is the fact that almost half (48 per cent) of Luxembourg’s population are non-nationals, with around 170 different nationalities present in the country. “These [foreign] players are training with us, but they don’t have Luxembourgish passports. We’ve registered for the qualifying phase of the [UEFA] U-17 Championship in September, but we have six or seven players who train with us but who cannot represent us," Santos says.
Since the announcement of their participation in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, interest in the national team has grown. In order to increase this further, the association is making the most of social media. For example, every ten days from September, a new player will be introduced on Instagram, Facebook or TikTok.
"I knew nothing about TikTok before, but now I’m up to speed on that too," the affable Luxembourger says with a smile. "We want to show young girls that they can play football."
And perhaps eventually make the transition into the senior team which, in Santos' opinion, is nothing if not passionate about the game.
"We've got a generation for whom football is the first thing they think of in the morning and the last thing at night. At first I was a little taken aback and said to myself: ‘Okay, let’s see how this goes’. After our initial training sessions and conversations, I realised that they were just waiting for someone to take them by the hand and say: ‘we can train, we can achieve something’. I’ve trained with the senior team at -10°C. Rain or shine, they’re always there," the 39-year-old says enthusiastically.
"For example, last year we’d planned a friendly international against the Faroe Islands, only for it to be cancelled due to Covid. It was scheduled for a Sunday but when I told the players the match was off, they asked me if we could meet for training instead. That wouldn’t happen with the men, who’d jump at the free day. But if my players want to train, then that’s what we do. I’m not going to say no. That’s a difference I’ve noticed. The women here want to learn and progress, which means I head to training both contented and motivated," he concludes.
For Luxembourg, the building blocks are now in place and conditions look good for the women’s game there to really grow.