This week brought an end to an almost year-long period of European Championship qualifiers before the tournament takes place in Germany next summer. Luxembourg ended the campaign with a double of wins against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Liechtenstein.
The Red Lions narrowly missed out on a straight qualification spot for the group stage, eventually finishing five points below Slovakia in the group’s third place. Racking up five wins and two draws in the ten matches would have been enough to qualify from some other groups, but an almost flawless Portugal-Slovakia pairing closed off any possibility for the Grand Duchy to cause an upset.
Finishing above Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iceland, besides Liechtenstein, was not originally seen as straightforward and the 17 points the team amassed over the 10 games is the highest-ever tally in history. It is also arguably the closest Luxembourg has come to qualifying since the ominous 1964 edition, when two draws against Denmark in the last round of ties prompted a replay on neutral venue, which the Danes eventually won by a single goal.
This time, the margins were a bit wider as it was already clear before the last game in Vaduz that the country will not be able to sneak above Slovakia in a last-minute overtake attempt.
However, the chances of making it to the big stage for the first-ever time are not dead yet. Although the qualifying group yielded no success in the end, a fruitful Nations League campaign earned the national team a chance at the last play-off rounds to be held, where three places are still up for grabs.
© Roland Miny
The four best teams of each Nations League division are given the opportunity to face off with one another, as Pot 4 of the group stage awaits the last three countries of the playing field.
Luxembourg, as a Division C nation, could only get fellow Division C opponents according to the draw structure. It all left Greece, Georgia and Kazakhstan in the hat as possible opponents. The seeding determined the ties, and showed that Georgia would host Luxembourg while the Kazakhs will travel to Greece for one-off knockout games on 21 March 2024.
The two winners will then play it out for one final spot five days later, on 26 March, with the venue not yet decided.
In terms of unavailable players, only Danel Sinani will have to miss the first encounter against Georgia, due to his direct red card in the 5th minute against Liechtenstein for stamping on an opponent’s ankle. The hosts will also miss key player Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, after the skilful Napoli winger accumulated too many yellow cards over the course of his country’s eight-game campaign.
Positive news around returnees and new faces are expected until the game, too. Yvandro and Mica Pinto will no doubt return from minor injuries by the time the fixture comes around in exactly four months’ time, and rumours suggest Luxembourgish-Portuguese Dany Mota could be on the verge of finally committing for the nation after continuous pleas to lure the Monza forward from the federation, and chiefly, manager Luc Holtz.
Holtz’s own current contract is due to expire in the summer, meanwhile, which could change the dynamic around the potentially historical achievement, before the all-or-nothing match takes place. FLF president Paul Philipp has confirmed Holtz is the number one candidate for the role and that talks would be held soon, but the manager insisted he has received offers at club level and will have to consider all his options wisely. It will be essential for all talks to be constructive and direct, to avoid any manager uncertainty surrounding the camp in potentially groundbreaking times.
Playoff opponents Georgia finished fourth in their five-team group, achieving two wins (Cyprus home and away) and two draws (against Norway and Scotland) besides four defeats. Luxembourg, meanwhile, defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina both home and away, and boasts five points in four crucial games against Slovakia and Iceland. Two losses to Portugal and two wins against Liechtenstein make up the grand total.
The 17-point record was accompanied by individual feats as well. Gerson Rodrigues became the country’s highest-ever scorer when he surpassed Léon Mart’s 16-goal career tally representing the nation. Gerson has since extended his record and currently stands on 20 goals after an impressive stint often carrying the team on his own, with 5 goals and 2 assists at the 7 games he was available for.
Luxembourg will play no further international games until the play-offs in March. The venue for the final on 26 March will be drawn randomly this Thursday.
The group stage draws will then take place in early December, where Luxembourgish fans will already be able to see the potential opponents and locations in the event they qualify.