- First ever women’s international for Liechtenstein
- Match ends in a 2-1 defeat to Luxemburg
- "The long wait is over"
Less than two weeks ago, on 11 April 2021, the Liechtenstein women’s national team played their first ever international match, going down 2-1 to Luxemburg. First of all came the disappointment of defeat, but in the moments that followed, the players soon began to realise what an historic milestone they had achieved.
"It’s an enormous milestone and worthy of a new chapter in the history of the Liechtenstein football association," the team’s coach Philipp Riedener told FIFA.com. “It was really exciting and above all something that we'd been desperate for, for such a long time. Both emotionally and in purely sporting terms, it was a great experience and a good performance.
"The expectation was that we would put in a decent performance and one worthy of our status, and that’s what we did. The work that we have put in over recent months paid off.
"Obviously we’re all athletes and we want to win all of the time. My feeling is that Luxemburg aren’t that far ahead of us. I wasn’t expecting us to win the match. We wanted to give it our all, and if that turned out to be enough to get a result, then so much the better. And if not, then it wasn’t going to be the end of the world. Taking the lead was a positive sign, and in the first half, we were the better team."
It was in the 35th minute when captain Viktoria Gerner prodded the ball home from close range to score the women’s national team’s first ever goal.
"I just had to stick my foot out," said the striker, who incidentally celebrates her 32nd birthday today (22 April), with a grin. "I can’t begin to describe how it felt. We’d been waiting for this moment for so long and that made it all the sweeter when we finally got to go out onto the pitch together. The main things we felt were pride and sheer enjoyment. It’s obviously a shame that we lost – everyone wants to win. My goal was a highlight and I’d have been happy, whoever had scored it.
“The next thing we’re aiming for is obviously our first win, but what is much more important is to be able to play in front of fans again. Whether that comes this summer or not, nobody knows. We’re currently growing as a team. Experiences like the first international match bring us together and give us something to build on. We’re obviously hoping for a win against Gibraltar – and hopefully in front of a crowd."
The long wait is over
The 18-strong squad assembled on Easter Monday ahead of the Luxemburg game to begin intensive preparations for their first international match. "The long wait is over" was written in large letters on a PowerPoint slide that was shown to the Liechtenstein players at the beginning of their "week of football", as it was termed.
It was the culmination of almost 18 months of preparatory work. In early 2020, the national association (LFV) announced the creation of a women’s national team – a good six years after the first international appearance of the country’s U-16 side. The foundations laid by the clubs and the national association were finally bearing fruit.
"The last few months have been very productive for us," Riedener said of the tough times during the pandemic. “The clubs were only allowed to have training in small groups with no physical contact. We then reached an agreement together for us to train with our international players, and since January, we have had regular sessions held under normal conditions. That helped us to take the next step."
An even bigger step is set to be taken in June, with a second international match, against Gibraltar. "This year, we want to play Gibraltar, Luxemburg and Andorra,” the coach continued, “and if all goes well, we might take it one stage further and look to face opponents who we think are a little stronger.
“Our main aim is to take part in the next round of EURO qualifying – that’s due to start in autumn 2023. Between now and then, we want to have built things up to a level where we can take on other teams in a competitive environment. We’re also hoping that there will be a UEFA Nations League for women, along the same lines as the men’s. The advantage with that would be that we would compete against teams who are of the same standard as us."
Girls on the ball
Everyone is well aware that this particular goal is still a long way off, so the aim at the moment is to recruit new players and to create awareness around the national team.
"We’re well set up for the future, but what we’re lacking at the moment is depth,” said Riedener. “We need even more players and that’s why matches like the one against Luxemburg are important in promoting women’s football. We need to get young girls excited about football, following the example that our men have set. They’re at a stage now where they can absolutely hope to pick up points and the odd win here and there, and that has to be the next target that we set ourselves."
To achieve this aim, the LFV has launched a campaign called 'Girls on the ball' featuring a wide variety of activities throughout the year to make it easier for girls to take up football and to promote exchanges between players. The seven member clubs have come together to provide a support base to offer girls age-appropriate footballing pathways. For Gerner this development has come too late, with the captain working full-time as a physiotherapist in a clinic, although she does train three or four times a week.
"In my generation, people played football in Liechtenstein because they enjoyed it, but ambitions have now definitely changed,” she said. “Things have really come on since I first started playing. The younger generation is looking to achieve different things. I’m here to provide a sense of calm and leadership for the others. The younger players have followed different training paths and change clubs at an earlier age, and I can learn a lot from them. We’ve achieved this milestone together and we’re ready to follow it up!"
Images courtesy of LFV / Daniela Porcelli