There are many different definitions of success in football. For a major European power such as Portugal, for example, it means winning the FIFA World Cup™. At the other end of the scale, however, minnows like Liechtenstein have to set their sights far lower. Accustomed to making up the numbers in qualification competitions and the recipient of many a heavy defeat over the years, the Principality's long-suffering national team can only aspire to making life uncomfortable for the big boys.
And yet on the very rare occasions when the Liechtensteiners do punch above their weight, the elation they feel is every bit as intense as that experienced by a side lifting the game's biggest trophy. One such memorable evening occurred four years ago, when the perennial also-rans cut the mighty Portuguese down to size in a Germany 2006 qualifying match in Vaduz. FIFA.com relives a famous night when the mice of Liechtenstein roared.
9 October 2004, Rheinpark, Vaduz
Liechtenstein 2-2 Portugal
Scorers: Franz Burgmeier 48, Thomas Beck 76 (Liechtenstein); Pauleta 23, Daniel Hasler 39 og (Portugal)
Liechtenstein: Jehle, Michael Stocklasa, Telser, Hasler, Ritter, Martin Stocklasa, Rohrer (Roger Beck 46), Gerster (Buchel 88), Thomas Beck, Mario Frick (Daniel Frick 90), Burgmeier
Portugal: Ricardo, Ferreira, Ribeiro, Carvalho, Andrade, Costinha (Tiago 46), Maniche, Deco, Simao (Petit 56), Cristiano Ronaldo (Postiga 61), Pauleta
Despite the international retirements of Luis Figo and Rui Costa, Portugal recovered well from the disappointment of losing the final of UEFA EURO 2004 on home soil. They picked up maximum points from their first two qualifiers on the road to Germany 2006, a 2-0 win away to Latvia and a 4-0 romp at home to Estonia, and another comfortable win looked to be in store when they travelled to Liechtenstein for their third assignment in Group 3.
The home fans had every right to be fearful about their side's chances. After kicking off the campaign with a 2-1 reverse to Estonia in Vaduz, the Liechtensteiners were on the wrong end of a 7-0 thrashing in Slovakia. And on the evidence of their first-half showing against Pauleta and Co, there was ample reason to expect another hammering.
*The match started with both sides assuming the expected roles. With Luiz Felipe Scolari's men camped in their half, the hard-pressed hosts defended as best they could, while hoping that star man Mario Frick could conjure up a miracle or two at the other end. Surprisingly, the first chance of the game fell to Frick, now with Serie A outfit Siena, but aside from that scare the Selecção das Quinas were in complete control, almost going ahead when Pedro Pauleta shot narrowly wide and Deco struck the crossbar from a free-kick.
The breakthrough came on 23 minutes when Cristiano Ronaldo swung in a cross for Pauleta to head home and edge closer to Eusebio as the leading goalscorer in the country's history, an honour that would be his just a few weeks later. Having picked the ball out of the net once, Liechtenstein overworked keeper Peter Jehle was preparing himself for another busy evening.
The visitors added a second just 15 minutes later when the artful Deco found Simao in space on the flank and the Benfica winger sent in a cross that Daniel Hasler could only turn into his own net. Two-nil up and coasting, Scolari's charges had good reason to expect an equally comfortable second half.
The visitors were quickly shaken from their complacency after the break, however, when Thomas Beck weaved his way through their defence to set up Franz Burgmeier, whose shot deflected off Paulo Ferreira and past the stranded Ricardo. As the 4,000 fans packed into the Rheinpark screamed their delight, the Portuguese sought to re-establish their supremacy, Pauleta lobbing the ball onto the bar and Helder Postiga being denied by the vigilant Jehle.
The decisive third goal did not materialise, though, and there were only 14 minutes remaining when the unthinkable happened. Beck's flighted free kick eluded everyone, including Ricardo, and nestled in the back of the net to complete an amazing two-goal comeback by a side languishing in 151st position in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. There was still time for the EURO 2004 runners-up to go close through Pauleta, Postiga, Deco and Maniche, but Jehle and his defence held firm and Portugal's humiliation was complete.
Although Liechtenstein's reward was a single qualifying point, the 2-2 draw represented the greatest achievement in their footballing history. With a classy assist and the equalising goal, the 23-year-old Beck was the hero of their unexpected comeback. Now with Swiss side FC Chiasso, Beck has since confirmed his status as the fulcrum of the side by scoring six times in 66 international appearances, two of them coming on another night to remember in October last year, when the men from the Principality beat Iceland 3-0.
"A few years ago a 3-0 defeat was considered a great result. Our objective now has to be more than just keeping the score respectable and being happy just to take part," Franz Burgmeier, the scorer of Liechtenstein's first goal.
"I knew we could come back. At half-time I told my players we simply had to get back into the game and then go and express ourselves. We now need to follow this result up with another achievement: our first win in a World Cup qualifier,"* Liechtenstein coach Martin Andermatt hails his side's comeback.*
What happened next
As fate would have it, the coach's dream came true just four days later when his players put four goals past Luxembourg without reply to record Liechtenstein's first ever away win. Although Andermatt's side finished the section in a lowly sixth place, they amassed eight points in the process and the highs they experienced in that heady week should provide them with some encouragement in the qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010.
As for the red-faced Portuguese, a barrage of criticism awaited them when they returned home. Sports daily A Bola dubbed them "The joke of Europe" and described the performance in Vaduz as "one of the worst in Portugal's history. The team were shapeless, soulless and lacking in inspiration". The Brazilian coach and his players had no option but to grin and bear it, but redeemed themselves in Lisbon a few days later when they swept Russia aside 7-1.
Their nightmare in Vaduz behind them, the Portuguese strolled to first place in the section, winning nine of their 12 matches, scoring 35 goals in all (more than any other side in Europe), with 11 of them coming from Pauleta, the top scorer in the European Zone. And after arriving in Germany, the Portuguese equalled their best-ever performance by reaching the semi-finals, just as they had done at England 1966, before going out to France.