Filming the Rise of Liechtenstein

Editor’s note: In his first entry for Pitch Invasion, Joe looks at the growth of football in Liechtenstein, and suggests the talk about pre-qualifying would only stunt a fascinating story captured by filmmakers Sebastian Frommelt and Sigvard Wohlwend.

Liechtenstein Map

“The celebrations went on in the restaurants and in the pubs in Vaduz until long after midnight,” he said. “Even today people on the streets have been stopping me and wanting to talk about this match.” (source: uefa.com)

On a night where England and Scotland were rocked in Russia and Georgia respectively, euphoria swept the four miles across Liechtenstein following a 3-0 triumph over Iceland. This victory marks the highlight of Sebastian Frommelt and Sigvard Wohlwend’s upcoming film “Die Elf – Kicken für die Krone”.

The pair followed Liechtenstein national team’s Euro 2008 qualification campaign as the side continued their steady progress on the international scene. A country of just 30,000 inhabitants (and three times as many registered companies), Liechtenstein is, according to the omniscient Wikipedia, the fourth smallest country in Europe after Vatican City, Monaco, and San Marino and a place so resource-poor that its water supply is listed as “negligible”.

Their current FIFA World ranking of 123rd (down two places from October 2007) belies their actual development. A haul of seven points from the recent campaign and eight points from World Cup 2006 qualification – including a credible 2-2 draw with Portugal – are by far their best ever records. Of course, upsets in football are common, but it’s not until one considers Liechtenstein’s size that their achievements become obvious. Here is a passage from Charlie Connelly’s “Stamping Grounds”:

“There are approximately 3,000 Liechtenstein men in total between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five. Not all of them will play football, and of those who do only a percentage will be capable of kicking a ball in a straight line. So it’s probably a reasonable guess that Ralf Loose has around four or five hundred basically competent footballers from whom to select a national team.

Until recently Liechtenstein had just one professional footballer. The same player, Mario Frick, is Liechtenstein’s all-time leading international goalscorer. With three. And one of those was a penalty.”

So why make a film about this supposed minnow? I asked film-marker Sigvard Wohlwend via email (translated from German):

“We are Liechtensteiner and we always asked ourselves whether and why Liechtenstein soccer players play along knowing themselves that they can’t qualify. But as we see, they become ever better. A second reason why we chose Liechtenstein and football – we looked for a topic on Liechtenstein which could have international interest, and that’s football. David versus Goliath.”

At a time when many critics are calling for pre-qualifying for the so-called international minnows of European football, the film shows a team who are competing with the top sides. High-profile players such as Mario Frick and Peter Jehle have played in the top leagues of Italy and Portugal respectively, whilst the team has recently recorded victories against Euro2004 finalists Latvia and an Iceland team boasting Eidur Gudjohnsen and Brynjar Gunnarsson.

Liechtenstein CastleThe Liechtenstein national team are no strangers to English-language interest; Charlie Connelly’s “Stamping Grounds” introduced us to many characters that will appear in the film, but it is the expression of national identity from within the camp that promises to interest international audiences. Although “Les Yeux dans les Bleus” and “Deutschland: Ein Sommermärchen” documentaries follow the France 1998 and Germany 2006 squads respectively, “Kicken für die Krone” promises to tell an untold story to a new audience.

But don’t believe that this film will be a feature-length version of a Football Focus piece, the stereotypical bank worker scoring two goals against Iceland (Thomas Beck, if you were wondering). The Liechtenstein team are serious and are optimistic about their future. Their World Cup 2010 qualification group has drawn them with Germany, home of the annual 11mm football film festival. In addition to Wales, Russia and Finland, it is the Azerbaijan match which excites Wohlwend on his site www.autoren.tv – “Against them Liechtenstein won for the very first time in a qualifier. And that’s when goalkeeper Peter Jehle made his debut in the team.”

They are a developing team with plenty of optimism, so it is hard to see how suggestions of pre-qualifying would help such a nation continue to grow.

The film will premiere in Vaduz on Easter Monday 2008 (24th March).

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