Bula bullish over Gibraltar Euro hopes
Gibraltar manager Allen Bula is targeting third spot and a playoff place after being drawn against Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Poland and Georgia in their Euro 2016 qualifying group.
Gibraltar -- who became UEFA’s 54th member only last May -- have played just one officially sanctioned game so far and have a very limited pool of players to draw upon, with many of their likely lineup to be drawn from the local amateur league.
This makes the team from the tiny British Overseas Territory overwhelming favourites to finish bottom of their group, but Bula said he was going to stick with the ambitious perspective which saw his side draw 0-0 with Slovakia in last November’s friendly meeting.
"I'm not going to change, I'm going to stick with what I said and that's to get to the play-offs," Bula said. "It is a dream come true. It has been a very long road.
"I'm very proud to be the first Gibraltar manager to go into the qualifiers, but also looking at it thinking there's a lot of hard work there with the group we've got.
"We're a small nation, but I've always said I wasn't here for the sake of just playing. I think, after the game we played against Slovakia -- our maiden game -- that nations have changed their mind about Gibraltar now.”
Before finally being accepted as a UEFA member after over a decade of opposition from the Spanish FA, Gibraltar’s players featured regularly in non-official tournaments such as the Island Games where they met teams from Greenland, Jersey, Shetland and the Isle of Man.
But the draw against the powerful Germans, as well as Scotland and Ireland, ensures a much more public platform for all involved – while Bula said that drawing fellow Brits Scotland was the highlight of Sunday’s draw.
"I jumped from the seat as soon as I saw Scotland come out," he said. "It was unbelievable for many reasons. It's going to be a very emotional game for us, great feelings.
"My grandchild is half Scottish, so I've got to make sure he's wearing the Gibraltar shirt. My assistant manager [David Wilson] is from Glasgow, so I've got to make sure he's working with me."
Gibraltar’s best known current player is former Manchester United and Stoke defender Danny Higginbotham, who is also Bula’s nephew. Higginbotham, now 35, has said he will play in the upcoming home friendly games against the Faroe Islands [March 1] and Estonia [March 5], but will then retire.
These upcoming friendlies are at the Victoria Stadium inside Gibraltar, but qualifier games are likely to be played at the 30,000 seater Estadio Algarve, built when Portugal hosted Euro 2004, where the Slovakia friendly took place.
Preston North End defender Scott Wiseman, ex-Portsmouth midfielder Liam Walker [now at Israeli club Bnei Yehuda], Wycombe Wanderers striker Reece Styche and 18-year-old Southampton goalkeeper William Britt have been named in Bula’s squads for the games against the Faroes and Estonia.