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.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
news

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing...

KS2 Teacher

£105 - £120 per day + Expenses: Randstad Education Maidstone: Randstad Educat...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week