- *Luxembourg held France to a 0-0 draw in their last Russia 2018 qualifier *
- The Roud Léiwen jumped 35 places in latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
- Goalkeeping hero Jonathan Joubert discusses their surprising progress
The France fans who turned up at the Stadium de Toulouse for their side’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier against Luxembourg on 3 September were entitled to think their side were going to collect three points, take another step to next year’s world finals and improve their goal difference into the bargain. A night of celebration seemed certain, but by the end of it there was only one party in town, and that was at the Luxembourg team hotel.
Les Bleus, who were firm favourites to win the match after their comprehensive 4-0 defeat of the Netherlands three days earlier, threw everything they had at their unfancied opponents, but could not find a way past goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert. When the final whistle went, the entire Luxembourg squad converged on the French-born hero of the hour, who had almost single-handedly earned the tiny nation its first ever draw against France after 14 defeats spanning 103 years.
*- Clean-sheet hero
*“My objective was to concede as few goals as possible before half-time and to not let any in for as long as possible. But with the quality of strikers that France have got, we felt they were going to score sooner or later. It was great go in 0-0 at half-time, and I said to myself that we could go and do the same thing in the second half: to hold on for as long as possible and limit the damage. As it turned out, we held on right to the end.”
*- Key moment
*“I saved a header from Djibril Sidibe and I said to myself: ‘They’re really going to find it hard to score today. I’ve got luck on my side and we’re defending well.’ They found it harder and harder to create chances at the end. There was a quarter of an hour to go and I said to myself that we might just make it.”
And make it the Luxembourgers did, adding a wholly unexpected point to the three they gathered against Group A rivals Belarus three days earlier. Joubert’s outstanding week was made all the more special by the fact that he was not even supposed to be here, with coach Luc Holz having announced in the summer of 2016 that the 37-year-old was no longer his first-choice keeper.
- No playing second fiddle
Joubert, who began his international career in 2006 – a few weeks after taking out Luxembourger nationality – is a staunch patriot and an even fiercer competitor. “I always want to play, no matter whether it’s for club or country,” said the Dudelange keeper. “I’ve never wanted to give anyone a chance of taking my place. I was the number one for ten years, so there’s no question of me becoming an understudy. I’ve never said that I was retiring from the national team. All I said was that I didn’t want to come back as a number two. If they needed me to come back and play, then I’d come back. Which is exactly what’s happened.”
Injuries to Anthony Moris and Ralph Schon meant a return to national duty for Joubert, who won his 87th and 88th caps against Belarus and France and helped Luxembourg collect four points in the process. Though their chances of reaching Russia 2018 have long since gone, they still have matches against Sweden and Bulgaria to come, and with them the chance to finish their campaign on a high and cement their progress.
The extent of that progress became clear in this month’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, in which they have jumped 35 places to 101st, just one position short of their all-time high, achieved in 1995. With over a decade of international experience behind him, Joubert is well qualified to assess the strides made by a side has long played with ten men behind the ball. That philosophy has now changed, however, and the results are clear for all to see.
“There’s a huge difference from a few years ago,” explained Joubert. “When I started out in the national team, I remember being a bit scared before every match. We defended so much and I’d say to myself: ‘So how many are we going to let in today?’ Though we defended pretty deep against France, in general we played a lot more football. We tried to put some moves together, even if it meant giving them more chances. It’s a big change.”
That is reflected not only in the FIFA Ranking but on the faces of the Luxembourg players too, who now know how it feels to greet the final whistle of a match in France wreathed in smiles and with arms raised.
Three things you did not know about Jonathan Joubert:
- First footballing hero: “I was never a huge fan of goalkeepers. My hero was the English player Chris Waddle, of Olympique Marseille. I really liked Fabien Barthez too, because he was left-footed like me. He loved one-on-ones and he was good with his feet. He was pretty much the complete keeper.”
- Best striker: “I’ve come up against a lot of great players but I'd say Dimitar Berbatov. He had the lot. He was good in the air and in one-on-ones. He was very neat in what he did. He did everything well.”
*- Joubert the shirt collector: “I’ve got the shirts of a lot of great players, but the ones I value most among the goalkeepers are those of Edwin van der Sar, Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas – three legendary keepers.” *