Ildefons Lima made his debut for Andorra in 1997. Little could he have known then that 23 years and 128 games later, he would still be going strong and have claimed the world record for the longest international career in men’s football.
Playing for one of Europe’s minnows can be a thankless task at the best of times – Andorra are ranked 135th in the world, behind the likes of Turkmenistan, Guatemala and Comoros.
Add in the fact many of Lima’s opponents were not even born when he made his international debut and you get a sense of the odds he is up against every time he takes to the field.
“I’ve played for 23 years and I still feel the same things that I did before the first game,” said Lima, 40. “Other players have told me there will be a moment when you will not feel anything. But, at the moment, I feel everything.
“I take care of myself. I train, I sleep and eat well. You have to do all these things. Fortunately, I have no big injuries. I think that this is a big thing that helps you. Everything gets more difficult, but if you take care of yourself then you can do it. I enjoy playing for the national team. It’s a motivation for me.”
‘Brazil’s Ronaldo was the best I played against’
Andorra earned Uefa affiliation in 1996 and Lima made his debut for the country a year later, scoring in a 4-1 defeat by Estonia. He was 17 at the time and has been a feature of the squad ever since, becoming captain a decade ago.
A tall and strong central defender, Lima is proud to have played so many international matches, even if more than 100 of them have ended in defeat.
He has only tasted victory five times with Andorra, which has a population of just 77,000, making those moments all the sweeter.
Lima identifies a 1-0 win over Hungary in a qualifier for the last World Cup as the highlight of his career, and perhaps the best result in Andorra’s history, but he has savoured plenty of unforgettable experiences along the way.