Andorra to share a grand stage

A nation with only 32 eligible footballers gets ready to face the world champions.

THEY HAVE a centre-forward called Jesus - but do not expect any miracles. Lourdes is on the other side of the Pyrenees. In one of the most absurd, and engaging, mismatches ever thrown up in international football, Andorra play France tonight at the Stade de France.

In their first return to the stadium since their victory over Brazil in the World Cup final on 12 July, the world champions take on one of the newest, and weakest, of football nations.

Selection is not a headache for Andorra's Brazilian trainer. He picks whoever is fit and can get time off work. Only 50 adult male Andorrans are registered as footballers; of those, just 32 are regarded as proficient in the basic football skills. Six are professionals or semi-professionals in the Spanish and Portuguese third divisions. The rest are students, firemen, insurance agents and municipal employees.

Jesus Julien Lucendo, the Andorran striker and captain, is a 30-year- old youth worker who once played a few games for Barcelona. He is not expected to have a busy night. (He does not have to do much, however, to outshine the last centre forward to take on the French at the Stade de France - another former Barcelona striker called Ronaldo.)

If the entire population of the tiny mountain country made the 500-mile journey to the Stade de France, a fifth of the 80,000 seats would still be empty. In fact, no away supporters are expected. Football is not a popular sport among Andorrans, a nation devoted to running duty-free shops and, when time permits, skiing. There are only three football pitches in the country, which is, admittedly, not well endowed with flat spaces.

One of the greatest problems the squad have faced in preparing for the match was persuading the Andorran government not to turn the lights off in the 980-seat national stadium in the evenings. In their previous away game, the Andorran players were discomfited to find the ball moving around the pitch more rapidly than they were accustomed to. Christian d'Argueyrolles, an Andorran football official, offered an explanation. "At home, there are lumps of soil on the pitches which slow the ball down..."

The European Championship qualifying match is the third competitive international - and only the eighth game of any kind - in Andorra's four-year history as a footballing nation. Their record is not at all bad in the circumstances: Played 8, Won 0, Drawn 1, Lost 7; Goals For 2, Goals Against 16. The 0- 0 draw was away to Azerbaijan. One of the defeats was 3-0 against Brazil, in a pre-World Cup friendly.

Last Saturday, Andorra lost 2-0 at home to the respected Ukraine side, who are regarded as the main threat to France in Group Four of the Euro 2000 qualifiers. The Ukrainian coach, Josef Sabo, did not enjoy his trip into the mountains. "Our players were lucky to leave the pitch alive after the way Andorra played," he said. "They play like football was 50 years ago."

In which case, why did the Ukrainians not score a net-full? The Andorran coach, Manoel Miluir, who helped to coach Ronaldo at Cruzeiro juniors when he was a boy, retorted: "I cannot understand what he is on about. There was not a dangerous tackle in the match and we did not get a single yellow card."

Miluir plans a similarly uncompromising display tonight. Anything less than a 4-0 win for France will be a moral victory, he says. "If we can, we may try a few counter-attacks."

The man deputed to extinguish the great French midfield player, Zinedine Zidane, will be Xavier Francesco Palomo Ramirez - who is, appropriately, a fireman. Andorran creative hopes rest on the libero Antonio Lima Sola, from the Portuguese Third Division club, Madeira. Miluir describes him as a "delicate artist".

The coach, and other Andorran football officials, have been fighting an uphill battle with their government since they were admitted to the ranks of the nations recognised by Fifa, world football's governing body, in 1994. The truth is that football is popular in Andorra, but not among Andorrans. There are are 1,733 registered players, including women and children, but almost all are immigrants. Under the tiny but wealthy country's restrictive nationality laws, it is impossible for them to become naturalised Andorrans.

Miluir has pleaded for relaxation of the rules: for more money for football and for the lights to be kept on later in the national stadium on training nights. To no avail. "If I were cynical, I would say the national sport here is opening and closing the cash box," Miluir said.

The match poses a tricky problem of protocol for one keen French football fan, President Chirac. At the World Cup final, he wore a France scarf and carried a squad shirt bearing the number 23. He is expected to go to tonight's game. But will he wear two scarves, or swap at half-time? Andorra's joint heads of state are a Spanish bishop and the president of the French Republic.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice