International football

“Where Iceland can pick from 10 we can only choose one”

“Where Iceland can pick from 10 we can only choose one”

Andorra coach Koldo Álvarez sat down with As to discuss his side's unbeaten run and the challenges facing a principality with a population of 77,000.

The Andorra national football team is enjoying a period of unprecedented success after embarking on a five-game unbeaten run for the first time in their history. In Europe over 90 minutes, only Spain, Macedonia, Romania, Ukraine and Kosovo remain undefeated in 2018, a situation Andorra coach Koldo Álvarez can scarcely credit after eight years in charge of the side. “I could never have imagined such a positive run of results,” the former Atlético Madrid B keeper told As.

Álvarez was born in Vitoria in the Basque Country but has always considered himself Andorran. Capped 79 times, in 2003 the Andorran Football Federation named him as the principality’s best player in the last 50 years. He was appointed manager of the side in 2010 and since then has worked tirelessly “in the confidence that things can always improve and that we can grow as a national team.”

Over the past year, Andorra have done just that. “It is the fruit of several changes instigated by the federation,” Álvarez explains of his team’s historical unbeaten run. “Investments were made to improve coaching and in the youth set-up, which has allowed us to include several under-21 players in the senior side, some of whom are starters. This blend of youth and experience is producing excellent results.”

Ildefons Lima, Andorra’s captain, is a prime example of the sacrifice and effort Álvarez extols. With 115 caps to his name, the same number as David Beckham and one more than Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard, the 38-year-old is vital to Álvarez’s system. “He isn’t a big name but the desire he has to wear the shirt rubs off on the others on and off the pitch.”

"We know that at any moment we'll get a chance to score"

At the coaching level, Álvarez has altered little over the course of the last year. The 48-year-old pinpoints a 2-0 away win in San Marino last February as the turning point. “We started to think that the number of games we had gone without winning wasn’t that important and a huge weight was lifted. Since then, we have been getting better and better.”

Álvarez attributes this upturn to Andorra’s ability to “use weapons that other national teams do not possess,” turning an inferiority complex into a foundation stone for punching above their weight. It also helps that youth players in Andorra know they have a very genuine chance of making the national team. “We don’t have the number of players that other sides have,” Álvarez adds. “By population, Iceland for example can choose from 10 players for a position whereas we can choose only one. Taking that into account, the fact that there are a lot of young players coming through is helping to improve competitiveness.

Unsurprisingly, Andorra base their style of play on defence. “We are a reactive side, who don’t give up the ball to the opposition but are aware that the more compact we are and the more help the defence receives the closer we are to achieving something positive. We have a strong defensive phase and we grow into games. We know that at any moment we’ll get our opportunity to score.”

Andorra are next in action on October 13 against Georgia, who top Uefa Nations League D group ahead of Álvarez’s side after two victories from their opening two games. The Andorra coach is a fan of the new format, which he says allows his side to test themselves against similar opposition. “Being competitive in every game means that the level of improvement is much more significant. Our objective in the Nations League is to play as well as we can. We are proving to be a competitive side, we know what we’re doing and we’re getting to the end of games with the possibility of wining still in play.”

After drawing their opening two games against Latvia (0-0) and Kazakhstan (1-1), Álvarez is not putting any limits on what Andorra can achieve. “We couldn’t have got off to a better start.”

Koldo Álvarez during a game against England.

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