You would be forgiven for having not heard of West Ham’s Europa League opponents FC Lusitanos when the draw took place on Monday.
The Hammers qualified for the Europa League via the Fair Play League standings. This means that they have the unenviable task of partaking in competitive football on the July 2 with a home meeting with their Andorran counterparts, with the return leg scheduled a week later on July 9.
The East London side’s first foray into European competition in nine years will involve a 1,600 mile round trip to play at the 899 capacity Camp de Futbol d’Aixovall. It will be the first time an English club has played a competitive fixture on Andorran soil. Or indeed on artificial turf in Andorra. The ground is shared across various clubs within the region.
But what history can we dig up about this little known side? Well history is not something that FC Lusitanos have a whole lot of. In fact when West Ham last scored in the Europa League’s precursor, the UEFA Cup, FC Lusitanos were a matter of a few days old. That was 30th September 1999, the day when Marc-Vivien Foe scored the last in a 3-1 win over Croatian team NK Osijek. In their maiden season in 1999/2000, Lusitans won the Segona Divisio and were promoted to the first division at the first time of asking.
[ffc-gal cat=”west-ham” no=”5″]
Since then the club has played in the top division of Andorran football, having topped the 10-strong league twice in 11/12 and 12/13. The current runners up missed out on Champions League football by only three points, losing out to Champions FC Santa Coloma who themselves face Gibraltan champs Lincoln Red Imps FC in the big brother competition.
By virtue of having done so well domestically in recent seasons they have regularly entered the first qualifying round of either the Europa League or Champions league. With no disrespect to their previous opponents, West Ham are by far the biggest name they will have faced at this stage, and indeed ever in a competitive fixture.
Being such a lowly ranking league within the European system it comes as no surprise that their squad consists of mostly Andorrans and neighbouring Portuguese players. Their club badge closely resembles the Portuguese national team crest with the team’s home colours being a similar red to those worn by Cristiano Ronaldo on international duty.
The most recognisable Andorran player on the roster is probably Oscar Sonejee. Earlier this month he reached 100 caps for the national team. He generally plays as a midfielder but was once given the job of man-marking Wayne Rooney in March 2007 in a European Championship qualifier. This contest culminated in both players getting booked. It’ll be a reunion of sorts with current West Ham player Stewart Downing having played for the three lions that day.
Sure to face Stewart Downing on July 2 will be right back Edu Moya. The experienced Spaniard has spent most of his career in Spanish Segunda but did play in the top flight back in 2006-08, making 31 appearances for Recreativo.
Key man will most likely be Sierra Leone international Alfi Conteh Lacalle. Raised within the famed La Masia at Barcelona throughout his entire youth, the striker was in rich goal scoring form last season scoring nine goals in 10 appearances. It is yet to be determined whether he will commit himself to another year so he may well not play when the Hammers come to town on July 9.
If he does not play then much will rest upon the shoulders of Portuguese attacking player Bruninho. Having graduated from the Sporting Lisbon academy along with players such as Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso, he failed to make an appearance for the first team. He has found his feet at current club Lusitanos and has added a consistency to his strike rate at that level.
In conclusion, I do not expect West Ham to have any problem brushing aside this team. But with the East London side having to put together a scratch squad for the tie, the only thing good gained will be the picnic that the fans plan to have at the ‘stadium.’