I have a strange obsession with the minnows of European football. Both national teams and club teams. Each time I see the likes of Andorra, the Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Malta etc play, I hope they can cause upset (the sole exception being when they play one of my three favourite national teams ; in any other case I root for the minnows). It can be frustrating to see San Marino or Andorra lose game after game with humiliating scores. At the same time, this makes me just more charmed. These players don’t get paid or maximum they get their travel costs returned ; they often have to take time off work due to not being professional football players and thus maintaining a daytime job ; they do this while knowing they will likely lose with big scores. But still, each time they are there again, enthousiast and dedicated as ever. For the love of the game, for the honour of their country. Yes, I like the teams from San Marino, Luxembourg, the Faroes, … I even have a Faroese fan scarf which I received in a Dublin pub while drinking with a Faroese fan after the World Cup qualifier Ireland-Faroe Islands in, if I remember well, 2004. There were about 2000 Faroese fans in Dublin ; a large number for a remote archipelago with less than 50000 inhabitants.
Another one I love is Luxembourg. I visited the country often. Echternach, Wiltz, … lovely little idyllic villages. The capital may be mostly known for banking and politics, but there’s a lot of parks, a lovely valley with a very high bridge overlooking the hills and the river deep below, a lot of charming cafes, … A lovely city. I also was close to visiting the national stadium but sadly enough it was locked. But Luxembourg is somewhat different from those other minnows. They have actually upset big teams from time to time and have produced some players that were actually quite good. Remember the likes of Strasser or, ealier, Hellers.
I remember the qualifiers for the 1996 European Championship. Luxembourg managed to impress the world by getting 10 points. Unseen for a nation that small. Amongst that impressive campaign was a victory against the later vice-champion of Europe. The Czechs lost not a single game in the campaign except the final vs Germany (on golden goal rule) and … the qualifier in Luxembourg. Tiny Luxembourg beat the later runners-up of the Euro 1996. A shock victory with a Guy Hellers goal. Later shocks the Luxembourgish would cause include, more recently, for example a 1-2 victory away to Switzerland in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. Qualifying for a tournament would require a miracle, but Luxembourg is also not the type of team where you can send your reserve team and expect an easy 0-5 victory.
The league of Luxembourg is amateurish with maybe a handful of professionals and some semi-pros. But that doesn’t mean the league is bad. It is of course, compared to the big leagues and even to neighbouring leagues such as the Dutch or Belgian ones. But still, some Luxembourgish teams now and then cause surprise results in Europe. The last two weeks were totally sensational for football fans in Luxembourg thanks to a team from the southern town of Dudelange, or Diddeleng in Luxembourgish language. Just over 18000 people in a town in the very south of the small country, bordering France. The local team F91 caused sensation in Europe by first winning the first qualifying round game in the Champions League qualifiers with an aggregate score of 11-0 and then eliminating the money-swamped team from Salzburg. The story so far of F91 Dudelange’s European campaign 2012-2013.
F91 Dudelange… The name makes me smile. My first and so far only game of the Luxembourgish league I witnessed included Dudelange. It was a 10 or 11 years ago, the game was FC Wiltz 71 (Wolz in Letzebuergish) against Dudelange. I made the day trip with a fellow groundhopper. We first crossed a bit of the Belgian Ardennes and photographed the stadium of Rochefort. Then we continued the trip to the country of Luxembourg where we arrived in Wiltz. A very charming town on a hill with an equally charming stadium. The stadium was on bottom of the hill and so from the stadium you could see the hill in the background with the colourful houses on the hill. Very idyllic I must say. I also remember the stadium speaker and most of the audience spoke Luxembourgish (Letzebuergish) rather than French or German, and that Dudelange’s fans made the trip by a supporters bus. I thought that was odd given the fact that long distances do not exist in a country as small as Luxembourg. It was a very pleasant day out, even when it started raining cats and dogs during the second half. One, obviously drunk, fan of Dudelange, did not mind and with bare chest exposing his overweight body he shouted "Oh Diddeleng" or "Allez Diddeleng" all the second half long, not realising the whole stadium was looking at him and not minding getting totally wet by the pouring rain. I think the guy was too drunk to even remember anything that happened on the pitch. If my memory doesn’t let me down the final result was 2-2. Spectator numbers around 400. Cosy and nice, just as the village of Wiltz and its hillside houses itself. The level of the game: nothing special but also not bad. I asked one person if the players were professional. His answer (in German as I do not speak Luxembourgish) was "Amateure mit Taschengeld". Translated: amateurs with a small payment for games won. Which must be quite a financially interesting hobby for Dudelange who have been winning a lot of games and trophies in the last decade.
The club has won every single Luxembourgish championship since the new millennium, except for 3. In those same 12 seasons they also won 4 cups. The club was formed in 1991 (hence the name) when three clubs merged: Alliance Dudelange, Stade Dudelange and US Dudelange. The club plays its games at the Stade Jos Nosbaum with capacity just over 2500. At the time of the merger, Alliance was struggling to survive at the 2nd level of Luxembourgish football while the other 2 were in division 3. In those days, Jeunesse d’Esch was the strongest club by far in Luxembourg. The merger proved to be a success as the club promoted to the top level at first attempt and has since then changed the football landscape in the tiny nation.
Dudelange not only started winning trophies domestically but also became Luxembourg’s first club to proceed to the second qualifying round of the Champions League. This was in the 2005-2006 season. Dudelange lost the initial game against HŠK Zrinjski Mostar (from Bosnia-Herzegowina) 0-1. Out in the first qualifying round as usual with Luxembourgish clubs, everyone thought. Well, no, not this time. The return in Bosnia and Herzegowina was sensational however: in the third minute of added time (!!!) the Luxembourgers made it 0-1 to get extra time, and in that extra time scored 3 more goals. A Luxembourgish team surviving a Champions League qualifier was unseen, and 0-4 wins away from home were totally sensational. The whole nation was suddenly behind Dudelange. Rapid Wien ended the success story in the next round but the 0-4 win in Bosnia-Herzegowina alone was good enough to have made that European campaign a success.
So yes, Dudelange is a powerhouse in the national football. I am not a gloryhunter usually, but still I sort of like this club. I like Luxembourg as a country and with their teams well in general. And whenever I hear the name Dudelange I think back of that rainy day in Wiltz with the drunk guy shouting "Diddeleng" the entire second half, getting more attention than the players on the pitch. Nice memories.
Hence, I was very glad to see the club booking new success now. As often the last decade, Dudelange won the domestic championship last season and started in the first qualifiying round of the Champions League 2012-2013. This one is for the weakest leagues only as the other participants were from Northern Ireland (the usual Linfield FC), the Faroe Islands, Andorra, Malta and San Marino. In such a qualifying round, a Luxembourgish team would even be favourites to proceed. When Dudelange was tied to San Marinese champions Tre Penne, an 11-0 aggregate score was realised. On 3rd July, Dudelange won 7-0 in the own Jos Nosbaum stadium, and won the return 0-4 on 10th July in the national stadium of San Marino in Serravalle. 11-0, never seen before from a Luxembourgish team. Even if we remind that the opponents were from San Marino, this result was stunning. Victory was expected, but not this large.
On 17th July, the second qualifying round brought FC Salzburg to Luxembourg. Regulars in the European leagues, nobody gave Dudelange a chance but this was one of those nights when magic happened and proved that football is sometimes, just sometimes, just as unpredictable as in the old days. A goal by Aurélien Joachim 15 minutes before the end gave Dudelange a surprise 1-0 win. Nice, most thought, but this will just be a goodbye in style after the return game will be easily won by Salzburg.
Wrong again. 24th July, Stadion Salzburg, in northern Austria. Dudelange defended their lead against the full-time professionals with European experience from Austria. Steinmetz caused a shock lead for Dudelange halfway the first half ; suddenly Salzburg needed 3 goals to proceed. Jantscher quickly made it 1-1 and before half-time Salzburg made it 2-1 through Hinteregger. Dudelange at half time still through on away goals but one Austrian goal would be fatal. What happened after half time however was beyond anyone’s belief: not Salzburg but Dudelange marked… twice!! Joachim and Steinmetz put the 2-3 on the scoreboard. For those who were fully realising this was not just some surreal dream, it became clear Salzburg now needed 3 more goals to proceed. The Austrians pushed forward but with just 10 minutes left still trailed 2-3. Then Dudelange made it difficult for themselves by letting in 2 goals in 2 minutes time (from Cristiano on penalty and from Zárate). In just two minutes time, qualification seemed in danger: Salzburg had another 8 minutes and just 1 more goal would make the dream of Dudelange burst. But this didn’t happen and the Luxembourgers managed to hold on to the 4-3 score, sending them through on away goals rule. For the ambitious Austrians, European football is already over for this season.
The accompishment of Dudelange is huge. Even if it is against a Sanmarinese team, an 11-0 aggregate score is huge for a Luxembourgish team. And eliminating Salzburg was beyond anyone’s highest hopes. The reward is a next tie, when Dudelange face Maribor from Slovenia. 1st August in Maribor, return on 8th August in Dudelange. I am quite sure the entire nation is behind the team right now. And I too wish them well. Or, let’s join the drunk guy for a moment and shout: "Allez Diddeleng!!"