Little Liechtenstein achieve big

  • Liechtenstein is one of the world’s smallest nations

  • The European principality has enjoyed significant achievements for its size

  • Further developing women’s football is a key goal

If football achievement is best measured in relative terms, then Liechtenstein could be considered among the world’s elite. The microstate in central Europe will always be hampered by its tiny landmass and population, by there is no denying their hunger to succeed – or comparative achievements.

Since debuting in tournament football during the UEFA EURO 1996 qualifying competition, Liechtenstein have picked up seven competitive wins, along with a series of draws against some of the game’s most storied nations. It is no small feat given most opponents’ national stadiums are bigger than the principality’s entire 38,000 population.

There have been wins against the likes of Iceland, Azerbaijan, Latvia and others, as well as some highly credible draws. Perhaps most memorably, a star-laden Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo and Co – were sent home with just a share of the spoils after a 2-2 draw during 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ qualifying.

Rheinpark Stadion, Vaduz, Liechtenstein

The smallest nation to border two countries in the world, Liechtenstein is truly blink-and-you-will-miss-it size. Cross the upper reaches of the Rhine at the eastern end of Switzerland and within minutes you are in Vaduz, the modest and picturesque capital of just 5,000 citizens. Maintain the same direction past the Prince’s castle and into the alpine village of Malbun and already one is looking up to the top of the mountain ridge which forms the border with Austria.

Need more convincing of Liechtenstein’s limited resources? The nation’s entire playing base is generated by just seven clubs, and the country is the only UEFA member not to have its own league.

Instead the septet plays at various levels within Switzerland’s league structure. The headline act is undoubtedly FC Vaduz, the nation’s only professional side. The capital club have spent several seasons in the past decade in the Swiss top flight.

Both FC Vaduz and the national team play their matches at the Rheinpark. Nestled alongside the famous river on one side, the stadium offers views of the castle and the invariably snow-capped Alps, making the national stadium something of a groundhoppers’ delight. Remarkably, the 7,000 capacity is greater than the capital’s population and around 20 per cent of the nation’s entire populace can fit into its confines.

Two of Liechtenstein’s most decorated footballers are currently occupying key roles in the local game. The Liechtenstein Football Association’s (LFV) chief executive is Peter Jehle, the national team’s most-capped player and once the long-term incumbent of the No1 jersey.

Heading FC Vaduz’s push for promotion back into Switzerland’s Super League is former golden generation poster boy Mario Frick. The one-time Serie A forward and all-time national team top goalscorer assumed the club’s reins in 2018.

The next step for the national association is to maintain momentum and grow the game further. The LFV maintain several programmes in order to sustain their modest 2,000 strong player base.

The LFV are also putting a concerted focus on developing women’s football. The Liechtenstein national women’s team are seeking to take the field for the first time later this year, with their youth teams debuting at continental level just five years ago.

“Fortunately many young boys and girls still find their way into football,” Jehle told in relation to grassroots participation. “However, society is showing clear trends towards greater individualism and away from team sports, which naturally worries us. And we must do even more in the future to promote our sport to men and women.

“As a micro-market, it is extremely difficult for us to access financial flows, such as sponsorship income, on a purely commercial basis. For us, the UEFA and FIFA grants are vital for survival. Without the great help of FIFA and UEFA, our mission could not be accomplished.”

This article is part of our 'The Global Game' series, which focuses on football away from the spotlight. Next week we'll travel to Greenland.