Watch your step with those mountain men

Steve Tongue says Andorra have poor record but give little away these days
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The Independent Football

They have been the best of teams and the worst of teams, at times threatening results to go down in football history and on other occasions looking like opponents any country in the world would be pleased to play.

They have been the best of teams and the worst of teams, at times threatening results to go down in football history and on other occasions looking like opponents any country in the world would be pleased to play.

They are Andorra, a nation whose principal stadium holds 1,414 spectators, which is why the World Cup fixtures against Holland last night and the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday were moved to Barcelona, a Catalonian home from home. Not, of course, that the Nou Camp was required to accommodate all the spectators desperate to see the two games. The venue for both is the nearby Mini Estadi, where the 4,000 Irishmen expected to congregate this week will almost certainly outnumber a combination of Andorrans and curious locals.

Four thousand was the attendance on the famous day in June 1999 described as "the greatest in our country's short history'' when, with five minutes of a European Championship qualifying match remaining, Andorra were holding France, the world champions, 0-0. Then the French were awarded a dubious penalty, from which a greatly relieved Frank Leboeuf scored the only goal.

In Paris eight months earlier Andorra had lost only2-0, their massed defence holding out for almost an hour, and later in the same group they lost only 2-1 to Russia, making a mockery of the size and football traditions of the respective countries. The cluster ofPyrenean mountain valleys that makes up Andorra is approximately 18 miles by 11 and houses a population of fewer than 7,000, barely one sixth of whom are genuine Andorrans eligible to represent the national team.

That team did not play a full international until 1996, and did not win one until the glorious day in April 2000 when Belarus were sent home beaten 2-0 in a friendly watched by all of 500 people. In competitive games, Andorra have a 100 per cent record - of defeats - yet what is noticeable is how rarely they are thrashed by the sort of margin that might be expected: the present World Cup campaign began with losses to Estonia (twice) and Cyprus, but all by the odd goal. Even Luis Figo's Portugal managed no more than three against them last month.

At club level, the expected drubbings have tended to materialise more often. Andorra first entered British sporting consciousness as something other than an occasional Tour de France venue in 1997, when Dundee United were drawn against CE Principat, the club formerly known as Real Madrid Supporters' Club of Charlie's Restaurant until Uefa demanded something rather more formal. Principat's main striker, suggesting that a 15-0 aggregate defeat would be a respectable result, was guilty of over-optimism: they lost 8-0 and 9-0.

There is, however, a certain wariness in the Irish camp, where memories of poor performances against supposedly lesser teams are fresh in the mind. As the FAI president, Pat Quigley, put it: "A lot of people don't rate Andorra, but they haven't been going out and getting beaten 6-0 or 7-0. Their games have been closer than that.''

The Republic's manager, Mick McCarthy, said before last night's game in Cyprus: "Andorra will make it very hard for us. They're not bad technically, they'll keep the ball and they can put 10 men behind it to stop us beating them.''

The travel section of this newspaper has described Andorrans as "neither flamboyant Gauls nor exuberant Spaniards, but down-to-earth mountain people who do not like to dance''. A draw or an unthinkable victory on Wednesday and they might just enjoy a whirl or two.

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