The development of football in Luxembourg

Tonight, Luxembourg face Portugal in their 2024 UEFA EURO Qualifiers campaign. As of right now, Luxembourg are 3rd in their group, with ten points after three wins and one draw and a goal difference of zero. In comparison to Slovakia who are 2nd in the group with the same amount of points but with a goal difference of +3. If Luxembourg were to come 2nd in this group, they would qualify for the EUROS and history would be made. This potential for success has not emerged out of nowhere however and it has been a long time coming.

Luxembourg is a small country nestled between Belgium, Germany and France. It is usually considered as an economic hub rather than a footballing hub. Despite not being a centre of football, the nation’s footballing foundations were laid a long time ago, with the BGL Ligue, the country’s top division, being founded in 1909. However, with a population of 640,000 people, there is not a wide net in the search for footballing talent across the country.

Paul Philipp, the president of the Luxembourg Football Federation, has previously stated that “We’re a village…we know we are never going to be world champions”. Philipp blames the footballing shortcomings of Luxembourg on the limited population. Only 20 years ago, the national team was made up of teachers, bankers and civil servants. Whilst times have changed and the national team is now made up of professional footballers they have not experienced extraordinary success. As of 9th September 2023, the national team has played a total of 439 games, losing 335 games of them. Over the years, Luxembourg has had some serious beatings with England winning 9-0 against the nation in both 1960 and 1982. By 2006, Luxembourg’s national team was towards the bottom of the FIFA rankings – 195th out of 208 nations. They were considered by many as the worst national team in Europe. However, it has been proved that there is hope for the nation’s future in football as by 2018, they were ranked 82nd by FIFA, an unprecedented rise in such a short period of time.

The improvement in the quality of the national team has been accompanied by the improvement of squads in the domestically. For example, F91 Dudelange reached the Europa League play-off in the 2012-2013. In the 2018-19 season, they managed to reach the Europa League group stage. Whilst they did not make it out of the group, this was a huge accomplishment, losing only 1-0 to AC Milan and even getting a point with a draw against Betis.

It can be considered that the level of football in Luxembourg is improving on the whole. The national team is playing better than ever before, and the domestic teams are also improving. The quality of football in the domestic arena has been accelerated by people such as Flavio Becca, a wealthy man from Luxembourg who invested significant capital into F91 Dudelange. The growth of domestic teams has ensured that there has been a greater investment of time and money into players who are Luxembourg nationals.

Alongside the growth of domestic teams, Luxembourg players are playing in the top leagues of surrounding nations. For example, Leandro Barreiro and Timothé Rupil play at FSV Mainz 05, Yvandro Borges Sanches at Borussia Mönchengladbach and Florian Bohnert at SC Bastia. This export of players to more competitive leagues should hopefully ensure that with these players developing their skills elsewhere, they can bring back the abilities they acquired to the national squad.

The future is bright for football in this tiny nation. The Luxembourg Football Federation has a 5-year strategy in place, with its main focus being on the development of top-tier football in the country as well as increasing the relevance of the sport itself for the people. Paul Phillip has stated that he is “very proud” of the “first overarching strategic plan in the history” of the Luxembourg Football Federation. With a history of upsets and losses, this could prove as their turning point.

The greatest turning point is up for grabs tonight, however. If Luxembourg draw or win against Portugal and Slovakia lose, they would overtake them in second in their group and be placed at a qualification spot for the EUROS in 2024 ahead of potentially holding on to that spot til the end of the qualifiers. This would be a monumental moment in the history of football in Luxembourg. Whilst Luxembourg are working against the odds, having lost their first game to Portugal 6-0, anything could happen tonight. The Luxembourg squad could prove themselves to be real competition against high-class national squads.

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