- After an 86-match winless streak, Andorra finally claimed a victory in a friendly with San Marino
- In March, they drew with Faroe Islands in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, picking up their first point in an official match for almost 12 years
- Andorra’s captain, Ildefons Lima, discusses the elation of ending this poor run
“It was a liberating result for us,” Ildefons Lima told FIFA.com – an understandable reaction to his team’s defeat of San Marino on 20 February, given that no other FIFA member had endured such a lengthy run without a win. And yet, the Andorran skipper could not help but feel a tinge of empathy for the team on the other side of the pitch.
“You’re full of joy, obviously, but it also makes you feel a little sad, because the team you’ve beaten experiences the same kinds of ups and downs that you do. Hopefully, they’ll get to experience some joy soon as well,” he said magnanimously. Indeed, the loss to Andorra extended San Marino’s own unfortunate run to 75 matches without a win.
Lima acknowledges that seemingly even encounters such as these can end up creating more tension than usual. “When you play teams like San Marino, you’re afraid to lose, because you know that they’re about the same level, and if you can’t beat them, who can you beat? But we do try to approach all of our games in the same way, no matter the opponents. We’re acutely aware of our level, and that to achieve anything, we have to give 110 per cent.”
The victory, the fourth such result since the nation became a FIFA member in 1996, was a motivating factor for the Andorrans, who went on to bring another unproductive spell to an end by drawing 0-0 with Faroe Islands on 25 March in a 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier. The stalemate provided the principality with its first point in a competitive encounter for 11-and-a-half years.
“It was almost like winning the World Cup!” he said. “For us, these games are actually like mini-World Cup tournaments.”
With five qualifying matches for Russia 2018 still to play, it remains to be seen if these two positive results will propel Andorra to surpass their best-ever performance in a qualifying competition: five points in the Germany 2006 campaign.
“Back then, we had several professionals in our squad,” recalled the robust centre-back. “There’s a lot of work to be done if we want to move up to the next level, and the key to achieving that is having players who play abroad. The Andorran league is still an amateur set-up.”
Did you know?
- Lima has played in three of Andorra’s four wins, against Belarus (2000), Albania (2002) and San Marino (2017). He missed the memorable 1-0 victory over FYR Macedonia (2004) through suspension.
- Having pulled on the Andorran jersey 105 times, he is his country’s second most capped player of all time, just one cap behind record appearance holder Oscar Sonejee.
- He is Andorra’s all-time top scorer with 11 goals.
- He collects football shirts, and wants to acquire one from every nation affiliated to FIFA.
Now 37 years of age, Lima has enjoyed a nomadic career, turning out for professional sides in Spain, Mexico, Greece, Italy and Switzerland. “I’m like Willy Fog”, he said, laughing. On the books of Andorran outfit Santa Coloma since 2014, he is hopeful that his ageing body will stand up to the rigours of one more qualifying campaign and has set his sights on a more immediate goal in the meantime.
“What really excites me is the thought of becoming Andorra’s most capped player,” explained the veteran. “But when you represent Andorra, it’s tricky. We don’t play an awful lot of friendlies and we don’t reach the final stages of tournaments.”
Although he has two more appearances to go before that aim is achieved, he does already hold one international record: he is his country’s top goalscorer, despite being a defender by trade. “A team like ours tends to try to make the most of dead-ball situations, and that’s where I come in, as I’m pretty tall. And as our penalty takers had retired, I plucked up the courage and volunteered, and now I’m the designated taker,” he said, clearly still amused by the idea.
In fact, during the qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2016, his three goals made him the highest-scoring defender overall for that campaign. “I would love to add to my total before I retire, but that said, 11 is more than enough. It’s difficult, though, because sometimes we don’t even get over the halfway line!” he joked.
Another exciting challenge that lies ahead for Lima is continuing to expand his jersey collection, which he stores carefully in a custom-made wardrobe. “I’ll eventually have 500 or 600, and one of my goals is to get hold of a jersey from every FIFA member team in the world. I already have a hundred or so, including some pretty exotic ones, like Aruba! They have to be match-worn rather than bought from a shop, though.”
Before the interview draws to a close, he mentions his latest acquisitions, national team jerseys from Rwanda and Sierra Leone. “I got hold of them by contacting the manufacturer on Facebook. Yes, I know I’m a total geek,” he concluded with a grin.