Andorra preparing for Qatar 2022 qualifiers in September
Looking to open their account at home to San Marino
Coach Koldo Alvarez discusses the importance of good results to the team and the national association
Andorra ended the European qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ with a win and a draw at home. In the UEFA Nations League campaign that followed they picked up two points, and then four in the qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2020, a tally that allowed them to finish fifth in Group H, a point above Moldova. As that record shows, the tiny nation in the Pyrenees – nestled between Spain and France – is getting used to scoring points over their rivals.
The footballing minnows have been making small but noticeable steps in recent years, with Koldo Alvarez leading the way since he was appointed national team coach in 2010. Something of an institution in Andorran football, he has seen four Andorran Football Association (FAF) presidents come and go in that time and several qualification campaigns. Nevertheless, he remains as excited about the job as he was on his first day.
“Every day I get up wanting to improve and to learn. That’s the secret,” he told FIFA.com, spelling out his commitment to the cause. “We’ve had four presidents and they’ve all put their faith in us and the way we do things. I’m the face of a group of people that gives their all and tries to make sure that this works.”
Andorra’s progress has been slow but steady, and they intend to keep moving forward with the return of the qualifiers, which provide another opportunity to improve and achieve results, as Alvarez explained: “We’re looking to get better, to grow and be a little bit stronger and more competitive every day. I’d be lying, though, if I said that we don’t want to pick up some points too.”
Andorra endured a tough start to the Qatar 2022 qualifying competition back in March, with defeats to Albania, Poland and Hungary in Group I, which also features England. Undaunted, Alvarez remains full of ambition.
“We’re very hard on ourselves,” he said. “We like to watch our games back and try to improve. We had some really good spells against Albania and in the first half against Hungary, so we can take positives from that. We feel we need to make those spells longer in every game we play. There’s a lot of room for improvement.”
In the next batch of qualifying games, there is one fixture in particular that the fans, players and coaching staff are eagerly awaiting: the visit of San Marino on 2 September. “It’s possibly our most winnable game, but we need to be careful,” said the coach. “We have a lot of respect for them as a team. They’ve just drawn two games and they’re coming on. It’s an important day for us and we’re looking forward to it. We’ll do all we can to get a result.”
As Alvarez went on to say, qualifying points are vital to the continued growth of the FAF and the national team: “It’s really important to make a habit of something that was once very difficult for us. There’s a reason why we’ve scored points in the last five qualifying competitions. There’s a lot of work gone into it and a lot of things that have been done well.”
Alvarez, who will turn 51 during the Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign, is much respected in the Andorran game. A goalkeeper in his playing days, he joined FC Andorra in 1994 and has been an important part of the country’s footballing scene ever since, so much so that in 2003 the FAF named him the country’s best player of the last 50 years.
Asked about the changes being made in Andorran football, he replied: “We’re taking steps to improve the game here. It’s a lot more professional than it was in 2010. Clubs have better coaching staff, nutritionists, fitness coaches, and physios these days, and even the way we approach matches has improved. There’s a determination to maintain that desire to improve.”
It is no surprise, then, that Alvarez is a key player in the development of Andorran football in general, not just at international level: “We have a very close relationship with the directors of football. We try to produce a style of play based on the matches we play and the areas where we need to improve.”
Expanding on what he has to offer with his knowledge and experience, he added: “I can travel with any of the youth teams and help the coach. I love it and I get a lot of information on the players coming through.”
None of this would be possible without the unstinting support of the FAF, for whom Alvarez has nothing but gratitude: “They’re committed to creating the best possible facilities.” The clubs also have a part to play: “They have to understand that if we can improve the quality of coaches and the league and achieve continuity at U-21 level, then we’ll also improve at grassroots level. We have to maintain and keep nurturing the blend of youth and experience that has given us such good results.”
So does he see Andorra reaching the World Cup or EUROs one day? Committed to making it happen, he replied: “You have to dream and the kids, more than anyone else, need to have those dreams. We have to keep our feet on the ground and keep working. Ultimately, the quantity and quality of the work we do will be vital.”