Liechtenstein's new manager Walter Hormann knows there is little point in preten
Liechtenstein's new manager Walter Hormann knows there is little point in pretending his tiny country will ever be a major force in the world game...
"We are famous for stamps and banking, not football," admits the 42-year-old Austrian who has been thrown in the deep end with a Euro 2004 double-header at home to Turkey last Saturday and away to England tonight.
Liechtenstein is the fourth-smallest nation on earth weighing in at 100square miles and a population of just 32,000. But size doesn't have to everything and national pride helps to compensate for makes up for their lack of player resources.
Sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria in an idyllic spot next to The Alps, Liechenstein boasts one of the oldest and best-paid populations in Europe.
Most of them prefer to spend weekends skiing rather than playing or even watching football. But the younger generation have taken the game to their hearts and used the natural Central European assets of team organisation and technical skills to make rapid strides.
Their record might look poor - only eight goals scored in 43 competitive internationals and no win since 1998 until beating Saudi Arabia 1-0 this year - but remember this is country whose population is a third of Crawley's.
And they have had bloodied some notable noses, beating Azerbaijan in a European Championship qualifier five years ago, holding the Republic of Ireland to a draw and kicking off the current Euro 2004 campaign with a 1-1 draw with Macedonia. Even England were glad to leave Vaduz in March with a hard-earned 2-0 victory.
A lot of the credit has to go to their feisty German coach Ralf Loose, who was sacked six weeks ago after having one argument too many with the country's gentle Football Association and some of his senior players.
In his place has arrived Hormann, who is also in charge at the country's biggest club side FC Vaduz who play in the Swiss Second Division.
His first job was to reinstate players who had fallen out with Loose, like defender Christof Ritter regarded by Hormann as "one of the best players in Liechtenstein."
Most of Hormann's squad play for Vaduz and are now full-time professionals but their star is 21-year-old goalkeeper Peter Jehle who has tasted Champions League football with Grasshoppers Zurich and has impressed Liverpool during his time. At 29, Mario Frick is one of the older players in an otherwise youthful side and plays professionally in Italy with Ternana.
Don't think Hormann is a pussycat though. Two seasons ago he led a centre circle sit-in when Vaduz were knocked out of the Uefa Cup by Scotland's Livingston in very controversial circumstances.
Vaduz 'scored' in the last seconds at Livi's ground just as the referee was blowing his whistle for full-time and the Scots went through on the away goals rule.
Liechtenstein is made up of a few villages, boasting a delightful mixture of historic buildings and modern financial institutions. Each week night you will see football pitches fill up with well-educated youngsters, all enthusiastic to talk about David Beckham and willing to listen to their coaches.
A constitutional monarchy like Britain, Prince Hans-Adam II is the current head of State and is trying to modernise the country as best he can, although that is not always easy. Women didn't get the vote until 1984.
"The people are not used to having to go out to fight and win. Life is too comfortable for most of them to play sport at a high level, but we are educating them," admits Jehle, who is one of the busiest man in European football having conceded 14 goals in his country's last four European Championship qualifiers - all defeats.
The football minnows were given full Fifa status in the mid-1990s. Franz Burgmeier became a national hero with his winner against Saudi and the team were far from disgraced in a 3-1 defeat in Macedonia in June, when Thomas Beck actually gave them the lead.
Having struggled to retain their independence from bigger neighbours throughout their history, Liechtenstein has been a proud member of the United Nations for the last 13 years. They may never win or even qualify for a major championship but the way its young population have been enthused by football, you can expect them to give more established nations a few scares along the way.
by Joe Bernstein
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