Tuesday 24 April 2018

Andorra boss worried about everything except the pitch

David Kelly

David Kelly

Andorra manager Koldo Alvarez wants to keep his press briefing short.

A bit like his team's pitch here at the Estadi Comunal, the 850-capacity stadium that will become arguably the most incongruous host venue in Ireland's long history of championship qualification.

If Ireland were expecting a few potholes en route to potential qualification nirvana, they have them in spades here. And let us hope the hosts have spades also.

Behind the goal to the left of the main stand -- or tin hut with 700 or so dusty seats, one hopes the FAI president brings a cushion -- local enthusiasts compete in the shot putt and hammer throw.

Unfortunately, for the expensively assembled Irish players on show tonight, their efforts land on one half of the pitch, which is extensively pockmarked with sand-filled crevices.

Such a lunar landscape can prove an enemy to a professional player's ankle.

However, former Ireland manager Eoin Hand walked the pitch and declared it of reasonable standard. "The surface is fine, certainly better than that pitch we played on in Malta all those years ago," he said.

Andorra will squeeze the spectators into this tiny ground, much as they will squeeze the 22 players on to the field; the pitch measures 112m by 66m, fully six metres shorter and eight metres narrower than the Aviva Stadium.

Still, they did score once in the Aviva.

"The worry should not be about the pitch," says the man known simply as Koldo, who won 79 caps nervously tending goal behind the world's worst national XI. "I have never seen a stadium or a pitch win a game."

Unlike Ireland, Andorra refused to announce their starting line-up. Dark sarcasm would suggest they don't know their best team.

"I'm not especially worried," says Koldo with the shrugged resignation of a man asked to assess his thoughts ahead of a firing squad. "I know it is a big game for Ireland to win. It is important for us to try to get one point. Or three."

Denying any knowledge that Russia had pressurised his bosses to ensure the match was played here rather than in Barcelona, Koldo insisted that "we are happy to play anywhere, Barcelona or here. But I love to play important matches in Andorra."

Two hundred Irish fans have arrived here but there are some ticketless souls, perhaps eager to pitch up in the high-rise apartments in the surrounding hills with the help of benevolent guests and binoculars.

Security will be stringent around the ground though, so perhaps their best option may be a shuttle bus high into the mountains to find the city's only bar with Sky Sports. They should not be worried about the result, merely their absence.

Koldo's worries are lengthy. "I am worried about the long ball. I am worried about Robbie Keane. I am worried about Damien Duff. I am worried about Aiden McGeady."

And so on. Until the prospects of an upset were broached. "In any match, there is 33pc chance for a win, 33pc for a draw, 33pc for a loss," he muses. "The same for Ireland.

"I would be very happy for my players because they are working hard and working well.

"Personally, I would be very proud to take points from Giovanni Trapattoni. You could say it would be the highlight of my career."

Irish Independent

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