Mountain men take to the field

James Corrigan looks at the world's newest footballing nation: Andorra
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The Independent Online
Andorra might not have a currency or even a head of state to call its own, but from today it has a national football team to cheer on. The tiny mountainous country, sandwiched into a Pyrenean valley between France and Spain, is famous for ski slopes and duty-free shopping but when 11 Andorrans take to the field against Estonia they will also be known as the world's youngest footballing nation.

However, the chances of an upset in today's friendly are slim - the country has no professional league and fewer than 300 registered players. And the side sounds more like a jury than a team, consisting of bank clerks, civil servants, accountants, salesmen, construction workers, a lift repairman, an electrician and a hotel manager.

Nevertheless the game has generated enormous interest amongst the 64,000 inhabitants of Andorra, of whom only 19,000 are actually Andorran. "There is a lot of euphoria, a lot of expectation." said David Carpa, the general secretary of the Andorra Football Federation, who anticipates a full house of 1,000 spectators.

About half the population are Spanish, while there are also sizeable Portuguese and French communities in a country where most people speak both Spanish and French in addition to the native Catalan tongue. The country is already finding out about international football the hard way as they are not allowed to absorb players from FC Andorra, which is largely composed of Spaniards and plays in the Spanish Third Division. Twenty five years' residence is necessary for naturalisation and double nationality is prohibited.

One FC Andorra player, Felix Alvarez, is awaiting permission from Fifa to play with a temporary passport after marrying a local girl, and the former Barcelona striker Julio Lucendo is in a similar position.

Financial restraints also threaten to hamper the rise of Andorra. The federation has an annual budget of only eight million pesetas (pounds 40,000), but Carpa is undaunted. "Look what the Faroe Isles have done." he said. "This will really help the country. If it's like this before we play Estonia, imagine what it would be like if England or West Germany came."