That hollow feeling comes back as the wheels of my plane leave the runway and I set off for Vaduz. I’m still reeling from Sony Norde’s horrific injury and now I’m off to start Liechtenstein’s World Cup 2022 Qualifying campaign. In fact it’s less of a hollow feeling and more one of mild dread.
Today we host Russia, who are a full 126 places above us in the FIFA World Rankings and are expected to hammer us into the ground in our own back yard. The most optimistic Liechtensteiner fan would have to admit that the best case scenario for our boys in blue involves Russia’s star players each falling foul of an outrageously unlikely set of circumstances that rules them out of contention one by one, like the Springfield Power Plant softball team in that one episode of the Simpsons.
We’ll line up with our Project: Liechtensteiner Mk II despite it’s fall from grace in our last 2 EIL matches, which we lost by a combined score of 1-7. My team sheet doesn’t contain any surprises either, such are the limitations of our national pool; Benji Büchel starts in net, Eberle, Grippo, Kaufmann and Spirig form the back 4, Marcel Büchel starts in front of them with Wieser and Kuku as the central midfielders, while Schürpf and Göppel flank lone striker Frick.
We hold out for almost 20 minutes, which is longer than I expected to be fair. Frick fails to clear Golovin’s corner and can only nod the ball on to Kutepov at the far post, who heads it in from close range. Sensing that this afternoon’s only going to go one way, I tell the Liechtensteiner lads to try to control the game. Stranger things have happened. The time in 12th Century Burgundy when it rained herring for example.
Kutepov goes close again 10 minutes later, heading Dzagoev’s corner against the bar, but it’s Vitinho who doubles the Russians’ lead when Wieser’s clearance is blocked by Golovin and rolls into the box, leaving Vitinho with a simple finish.
It’s 0-3 before the 35 minute mark too, after we throw caution to the the wind and go all out attack. An excellent passing move by the visitors ends with Dzagoev sliding the ball to Smolov just inside the box and he absolutely thumps it into the top corner.
We regroup as best we can at half time but with less than a minute of the second half gone, Smolov goes close again, hitting a shot on the turn from 20 yards and hitting the angle between post and bar.
We do pull a goal back in the 53rd minute, countering after the latest in a long line of Russian corners breaks down. Marcel Büchel releases Göppel down the left wing and the fullback-turned-winger sprints to the byline before whipping a cross in to Frick, who knocks the ball into the net from 6 yards.
Our celebrations are short lived though and Russia are soon dominating once again. Less than 5 minutes after Frick’s goal, Vitinho tests Büchel from a tight angle and our keeper comes through, tipping the ball behind for a corner.
With an hour gone I bring on young Yanik Negele. I doubt he even wants to be associated with this absolute mauling, but it’s tough shit because my patience has just about run out with Pascal Schürpf, who makes way. Kuku will head out to the right wing allowing Yanik to play in the middle.
10 minutes later Smolov nearly makes it 4 again when he takes down Arestov’s chipped through ball and sends a vicious half volley just wide of the near post. 10 minutes after that, Frick takes a knock to the shin and has to come off, so Hadzipasic takes his place.
With 82 incredibly depressing minutes played, Vitinho’s denied a brace after connecting with Mário Fernandes’ cross and volleying the ball at goal. Scherle throws his body in and blocks the shot, keeping the scoreline at 1-3. What an absolute massacre.
The scoreline really could’ve been worse. Russia could and perhaps should have had 6 or 7. I’m sick of “Could’ve been worse” though if I’m honest. I’m sick of praying that we don’t get annihilated and celebrating our team actually scoring a goal like we’ve won the World Cup. I’m sick of our potential as a national side being so limited that we’re literally relying on 1 small club in the Swiss football pyramid to bring in other countries’ cast offs and keep them long enough to gain a Liechtensteiner passport.
We’ve got a trip to Lithuania next and if we don’t win I don’t know what I’ll do. Frick’s calf strain that he suffered in the last match will keep him out for a couple of weeks, so Hadzipasic comes in replacing him. I also swap Wieser out to right back replacing Eberle. He’s never played at right back but I think he’ll do a job there. Rony Hanselmann replaces the ever-frustrating Schürpf on the right wing, while Negele comes into the midfield triangle.
The game gets off to a scrappy start as you might expect. There’s not much quality from either side but with 7 minutes to go before the break, Negele chips the ball in from a right wing free kick and Danny Kaufmann rises to head it past the keeper and into the net. Liechtenstein lead.
Lithuania almost equalise within 3 minutes when Matulevicius’ cross is volleyed at goal by Cernych, but thankfully he hits the base of the post.
We try to retain possession in the second half to stop the hosts putting together any momentum for a fightback. It doesn’t work though, they still put together some momentum and with 15 minutes to go they break us. Vytas feeds the ball through on the left and Chernyakov places it past Büchel to equalise. Late substitutes Schürpf and Gubser are unable to make an impact and the match ends at 1-1, leaving Liechtenstein at the bottom of our qualifying group.
I can’t tell what I need to do now. I don’t know what my next step should be. Being the Manager of the Liechtensteiner National side was always going to be a huge challenge, but it’s one that’s definitely waring me down over time. I no longer look forward to the International breaks. I dread them. I resent being flown out from my far more rewarding job in Cape Town to be obliterated in Vaduz, like a schoolboy taking a break from running his tuck shop so that he can get the shit kicked out of him by the older lads for a bit.
I’ll think about it, but with both my Santos contract and my enjoyment of International management running out, maybe it’d be best for this Summer to be a complete change of scenery for me.