Scotland have been warned their Euro 2020 build up could be derailed if they underestimate Luxembourg in their final pre-tournament friendly.
As manager of Luxembourg’s CS Fola Esch, Jeff Strasser masterminded a shock 1-0 second leg win over Aberdeen in the Europa League in 2016.
Although Aberdeen edged through into the next round, they came close to suffering one of the most humiliating European exits in the club’s history. Fola Esch hit the post in the same game and, given the Dons had only won the first leg at Pittodrie 3-1, it was a pivotal moment – another counter for Strasser’s team could have sent them out on away goals.
As Scotland ready to play at the same Stade Josy Barthel where the Reds were shocked, Strasser insists Luxembourg football is on the rise – and lightning could strike twice.
He reckons Scotland boss Steve Clarke will give the nation sitting 96th in the FIFA world rankings their utmost respect.
However, he warned, if the Scots players even subconsciously take Luxembourg’s threat for granted, it could back-fire to deliver a blow on the eve of Euro 2020.
Luxembourg’s most-capped player with 98 appearances, Strasser said: “Aberdeen were a little bit lucky against us, especially in the second leg.
“I don’t think Aberdeen underestimated us, because when I saw what they did they were seriously prepared.
“When you play at that level managers do not take anyone for granted and prepare properly for a game.
“However, maybe in the heads of the players they thought ‘okay, this will be easier’.
“Whether that is subconscious or not, I don’t know.
“You see it often in the cups of so many different countries when sometimes you have smaller teams beating the bigger ones.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the coaches or staff not preparing their team right, it can sometimes be the mentality of the players.
“Also for the smaller teams these games are very important for them.
“Whereas for the bigger team it is just a normal game or they do not treat it even like that.
“Scotland must not do that because Luxembourg football is on the up, it is getting better and better.
“Year to year it is improving and there are a lot of younger Luxembourg players who are playing abroad, which is good for the national team.”
Only the post prevented Dons crashing out
Aberdeen suffered a nightmare start to their European campaign in the 2016-17 season when facing Strasser’s then semi-professional CS Fola Esch.
It took two last-gasp goals deep into extra time to secure a 3-1 first leg win at Pittodrie in the Europa League first qualifying round.
CS Fola Esch would go on to beat the Dons 1-0 in the return courtesy of a Samir Hadji goal and also hit the woodwork.
Strasser said: “We hit the post when 1-0 up and, if that had gone in, we would have gone through.
“The following season we reached the Europa League third qualifying round where we were beaten by Ostersunds (3-1 on aggregate) and only lost 1-0 away.
“Ostersunds (Sweden) went on that season to reach the Europa League group stages, where they beat Arsenal away (2-1).”
Luxembourg shocked Republic of Ireland
Luxembourg posted notice of their rising status with a 1-0 World Cup qualifier defeat of the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in March.
They were also 1-0 up against Euro 2016 winners Portugal in a Group A World Cup qualifier later that month before conceding on the stroke of half-time and ultimately losing 3-1.
Strasser said: “When I see the quality of the Luxembourg squad, so many are playing their club football in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Russia and Ukraine.
“The level is getting higher all the time and these players need to get two or three more years experience at their club until they get to the age of 27 or 28.
“Then Luxembourg can do something in the Nations League or maybe qualify for the Euro finals or World Cup. Although to do that you also need a good draw.”
World Cup winners France frustrated by Luxembourg
Scotland stepped up their Euro 2020 preparations with an impressive 2-2 draw with Netherlands.
However, they could face another test on Sunday as the days of Luxembourg being European whipping boys are long gone, as was underlined when they held France to a 0-0 draw in a World Cup qualifier in September 2017.
The French team that failed to score against Luxembourg included world stars Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Kylian Mbappe (Paris St Germain), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) and Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona) in the starting line-up.
Less than a year later, that French side would lift the World Cup.
Twenty years ago, Luxembourg, population 600,000 – the same as Glasgow – were ranked a lowly 195th.
For perspective, the nation currently occupying that position is Gibraltar – population 33,000 – little more than the combined population of Inverurie and Stonehaven.
At club level, Luxembourg are also progressing rapidly, with F91 Dudelange getting to the group stages of the Europa League in 2019-20.
Strasser, 46, said: “There has been investment in Luxembourg football and there is also a good system to train the younger players.
“Previously, focus was on the results of the first team and if you didn’t have enough young players you take them from another country and let them play.
“However, that mentality changed and we realised it was important to put focus on Luxembourg youth and their trainers.
“Now we are beginning to see the advantages of that.
“Many of our young players are now at clubs in other countries and those who have remained in Luxembourg now have a better quality and are better educated in football.
“The national team is working with players from every year from 12 years old onwards of the best talent.
“They make them train with the national teams three or four times per week with a group of around 25 players together.
“Then on Friday, Saturday and Sunday they are in their positions for the club.
🇮🇪 Irland 0-1 Lëtzebuerg 🇱🇺
⚽️ @gerson7lux 85’
— flf.lu (@flf_lu) March 28, 2021
“It is inevitable that the quality of these players will get better, which is good for Luxembourg.
“The structure is getting more professional as previously there were many teams working in semi-professional conditions.
“As the level of the teams gets better, so does the level of the whole league and the level of the Luxembourg national team.
“Obviously there is still some progress to be made and we cannot rest, but we are looking to the future and trying to make the next step.
“You see that with the results of the international team and also clubs in the European group stage it is already a very good situation for our country.”
A history of shocking Scottish clubs
Strasser has history of inflicting European defeats on Scottish clubs, having knocked Rangers out of the UEFA Cup (3-1 on aggregate) in 2000 while playing for German side Kaiserslautern, then in the Bundesliga.
The previous season he helped send Kilmarnock (5-0 on aggregate) crashing out of the UEFA Cup.
Strasser left Fola Esch in 2017 to manage Kaiserslautern before returning to Luxembourg football with Swift Hesperange.
He left Swift Heperange last season and is looking for a club and would not rule out Scotland.
He said: “Hopefully I will get something this summer.
“I am looking at what will happen over the next few weeks.
“Maybe one time I could go to Scotland and be manager at a club there.”