- The most improved side in June’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
- Currently occupying 129th place, their highest since 2006
- *After 86 games without a win, they recorded victories over San Marino and Hungary *
Andorran football fans must still be pinching themselves about the dream start their team has made to 2017. The really good news for the tiny Pyrenean Principality is that they can improve even further.
Their superb results thus far in 2017, with their historic win over Hungary being just the latest, were reflected in June’s edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, in which they were the most-improved side with a jump of 57 places to 129th, their loftiest position since 2006.
"We’re experiencing a very rare moment in our reality – and Andorra’s reality is something everyone knows about,” team captain Ildefons Lima told FIFA.com. “For us, it’s been a 2017 to remember – almost too good to be true,” added the defender who, with 106 appearances, is now his country’s most capped player alongside the retired Oscar Sonejee.
Andorra began the year in lowly 203rd spot, the result of an 86-game winless streak. However, victory over San Marino in a friendly this February appears to have flicked a mental switch in the players. “That victory evidently consolidated the work we’d been doing and gave us a peace of mind we’d been lacking. Whether we believed it or not, that winless streak weighed heavily on us,” explained the captain.
Head coach Koldo Alvarez put their current situation down to “all the things that we’re capable of doing better day by day”, although he admitted that the 2-0 win over San Marino had been liberating. “We lifted a millstone from around our necks. We’d wanted to believe it hadn’t been that much of a burden, but it’s becoming clear that it was much heavier than we’d thought.”
That friendly win was followed up a month later with a draw in their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 qualifier against the Faroe Islands – their first point in the competition for 11 and a half years. However, their crowning achievement came on 9 June in Andorra La Vella with a 1-0 qualifying win over Hungary – then ranked 33rd in the world.
“That was the most important victory in the history of the national team,” insisted Lima. “Our last win in a qualifying phase came against Macedonia [in 2005], but even that cannot compare.”
The country’s feat is all the more impressive given that the national FA has only 550 senior registered players. Moreover, when you take out the non-national contingent, the number available for national team selection falls to a mere 150. Consider also that the team boasts only one professional – Marc Vales, of Finnish side SJK Seinajoki – and one semi-pro, Max Llovera, who runs out for Lleida Esportiu in Spain’s Segunda Division B.
“That makes what the players have achieved this year all the more impressive,” said a proud Alvarez. Lima, for his part, feels that the team will now command a new level of respect. “We know that we’re Andorra, but other teams will now be saying, ‘Wow! If they can beat Hungary, they can’t be that bad.’ Portugal or Switzerland will not be shaking in their boots, but certain other sides will be taking us more seriously.”
And while improving on the team’s best ever ranking –125th in 2005 – and their biggest points tally in a World Cup qualifying campaign – five, ahead of Germany 2006, is certainly a goal, for Alvarez, "our preoccupation must be to focus on being competitive". Right now, that means competing in their four remaining Russia 2018 qualifiers against Switzerland, Faroe Islands, Portugal and Latvia.
“If we’re now this competitive team that takes a stand in each game and believes it’s inferior to no one, then we’ll have our chances," the coach concluded. "However, if we think we’ve made it or come a long way, then teams will soon bring us back to earth."