Andorra's soccer ambassador believes in a draw with Israel
His full name is Jesus Luis Alvarez de Leulate. In Andorra and Spain, he is known as Koldo, the Andorra national team goalkeeper and top player.
His full name is Jesus Luis Alvarez de Leulate, but the last time anyone spoke it, in all likelihood, was at his christening. In Andorra and Spain, he is known as Koldo, the Andorra national team goalkeeper and top player.
When European soccer's governing body, UEFA, celebrated its 50th birthday some two and half years ago, all the continent's soccer federations were asked to select their greatest player of all time. In Andorra, Koldo's selection was unanimous - despite the astronomical number of goals he has let in, and despite the fact that he ended up in the principality purely by chance.
Koldo was born in Spain, where he grew up in Vitoria, a town in the Sicilian province of Ragusa. After a short spell as second-string goalkeeper for Atletico Madrid in the early 1990s, he moved on to a number of second division clubs, and then ended up in the regional Catalan league with FC Andorra in 1995.
While with FC Andorra, Koldo met a woman from the neighboring principality; the two married, and three years later, Koldo received Andorran citizenship and the national team gloves.
Ever since, he has served as Andorra's soccer ambassador; he has played in almost every one of his national team's 38 official defeat (and also its solitary victory) and has conceded 130 goals.
In Nijmegen, the Netherlands, last night, where his team takes on Israel in a Euro 2008 qualifier tomorrow, Koldo was due to attend a small party to celebrate his 35th birthday. A few hours before then, while still in England, he spoke to Haaretz.
The English press has been very complimentary toward you, saying that you prevented a huge defeat; and in general, you are said to be your team's best player in every game, just like you were on Saturday against England at Old Trafford.
"That's not difficult," Koldo replied with a chuckle. "When you are the Andorran goalkeeper, you are always the busiest man on the field. You will always be noticed; you will always stand out. I do whatever I have to to the very best of my ability."
What do you know about the Israeli national team?
"I know a few of the players. Obviously, as someone who lives Spanish soccer and plays as a goalkeeper, I know who Dudu Awat is; the fact that he is Deportivo's number-one goalkeeper says a lot, and he has proved himself. I also know Yossi Benayoun, who played for Racing."
Andorra is one of the weakest teams on the continent. The feeling in Israel is that anything less than a convincing victory would be a failure.
"There is no doubt that Israel is a lot better than us, just like England is a lot better than Israel. But just like you managed to draw with France and had some other good results, we, too, are no longer soundly defeated in every game; and you must know that in the World Cup qualifiers we earned points and even won, at home against Macedonia.
"When we come up against England, we know we are going to lose, and we aim to eke out a draw; when we come up against a team like Israel, we aim to win in the hope of earning a point.
"Clearly, Israel has a 95 percent chance of winning; but it is a neutral ground and anything can happen... We have never earned a point in Euro qualifiers, and it is about time we did. Who knows, perhaps against Israel even."
No more soccer dreams
Koldo may be 35 already, but he is a goalkeeper who is in good shape; besides, there is no worthy replacement for him on the horizon. As far as he is concerned, he will play for the national team for as long as he is needed - well into the next decade, so it appears.
What is your dream?
"I no longer have dreams in soccer. I was disappointed at the start of my career because I thought I was good enough to play in the Spanish first division - but it didn't work out. On the other hand, I have been very lucky to have played international soccer and to appear on the best grounds against the biggest teams. After all, there are many, many players better than me, and better goalkeepers, in Israel too, I'm sure, who have not made it into their national teams.
"I have been very lucky. I played at the Stade de France against France, the world champion at the time, in front of 80,000 spectators; I played against Brazil in a preparation game for World Cup '98; I dived at the feet of Ronaldo; I played against England on Saturday; I'll have stories to tell when I am old."
What was your hardest game?
"There were many; playing in goals for Andorra is no simple task."
And if you have to chose one - perhaps the eight goals you conceded against the Czech Republic in the World Cup qualifiers last year?
"Actually no; I was good there. I think my toughest moment was out home game against Portugal in the World Cup 2002 qualifiers. In their first attack, within 30 seconds at the most, without a single one of our players even getting near the ball, Figo floored me and scored."
That game against Portugal, by the way, ended just 3-0.