Limas provide hope out of Andorra's box

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The Independent Online

The league, by general consent, has improved out of sight over the past decade, but with that has come problems. Foreign players have arrived and raised standards, but they are also believed to have stymied the development of native-born players, leaving a national manager looking at his options to lament their baleful influence.

This, though, is not the Premiership: it is the Primera Divisio. The issues of globalisation, it seems, have themselves become globalised.

If England's Steve McClaren thinks he has troubles, they are nothing to those his rival on Wednesday, David Rodrigo, is facing. The Andorran league will for the first time next season enter its champions into the Champions' League, which should help further to raise standards, but that does not alter the fact that there are barely any Andorrans who play in it. Of 171 players registered with the eight clubs in the top flight, only 42 are qualified to play for Andorra.

There are, of course, those abroad, but they do not necessarily help. Ildefons Lima, a defender but still Andorra's leading all-time scorer with four, is probably the most prominent export, turning out for Triestina in Serie B, but he has not played for his country since October 2005. The Elche midfielder Marc Bernaus, a national hero after scoring the only goal in Andorra's first competitive victory, against Macedonia in 2004, is likely to be included, but it says much for his priorities that he preferred to play for his club side in the Spanish second division rather than his country at Old Trafford in September.

It says much as well for the chaotic state of football in Andorra that his involvement remains only likely. For reasons that remain unclear, Rodrigo will not name his squad until tomorrow, with the only leak being that Toni Lima can expect a recall to win his 50th cap, although Rodrigo has not yet spoken to the defender. "I'm a bit disappointed he hasn't called me," Lima said. Six of the probable squad are based at FC Andorra, who compete in the Catalonian group of the Spanish third division. Most notable is the defender Oscar Sonejee, who played in Andorra's first international, a 3-1 defeat by Armenia in 1998, and has since racked up 65 appearances, making him his country's most capped player. What makes the achievement all the more remarkable is that the 30-year-old also holds down a full-time job in insurance.

"Playing is a pleasure," he said. "I've been doing it for so long now that I feel I'm missing something if I don't play. Competing against proper players makes you feel you are playing proper football. It makes us feel professional." Little about their preparation makes them look that way, though. A lack of resources and infrastructure is bound to make life difficult, but Wednesday's game against England brings this into particularly sharp relief.

The switch from the 838- capacity Estadi Comunal in Andorra la Vella to the Estadi Olimpic in Barcelona was logical. It only serves to underline the difference in stature between the sides that almost half of England's likely starting line-up have already enjoyed success in the city this season - John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole in Chelsea's impressive draw against Barcelona, and Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher in Liverpool's subsequent win.

The cliché has it that there are no longer any easy games in international football. In this case the facts would suggest otherwise. This is a game England simply must win; if they fail, even the hope will have fled Andorra's box.

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