The Gibraltar FA’s executive director has told Marca that the Euro 2016 qualifying draw feels like “a Christmas raffle” as the territory prepares for its senior international debut.
Gibraltar -- which has a population of fewer than 30,000 people -- will take on Slovakia in a friendly in Portugal on Tuesday.
The tiny British Overseas Territory, which borders Spain, officially became a member of UEFA in May after overcoming years of opposition from Spanish authorities and others who had argued against a precedent being set.
Dennis Beiso, executive director of the Gibraltar FA, said he was proud to have brought the team into the international fold.
“It has been a very long and hard process, which began in 1997,” Beiso said. “In the end, after two votes and three appeals to CAS [the Court of Arbitration for Sport], we have done it.”
UEFA’s 54th member will now be in February’s draw for the next European Championship, and they have already fielded teams in under-17 and under-19 qualifying games. Beiso said he hoped they would get England in their first set of qualifiers for a senior tournament.
“For us it is like a Christmas raffle,” he said. “We can only imagine we could be playing at Wembley someday -- it gives me goosebumps.”
Gibraltar will reportedly be kept away from Spain in the Euro 2016 draw for political reasons, but Beiso said football links with the neighbours were cordial.
“We have good relations with the Spanish FA,” he said. “[RFEF president] Angel Maria Villar was one of the first to congratulate us, but we understand that political matters have an influence.”
All but four members of Gibraltar’s squad for Tuesday’s game at the Estadio Algarve in Faro play in the local amateur league. Their most high-profile player is former Manchester United and Stoke defender Danny Higginbotham, now at Chester City, who is a nephew of manager Allen Bula.
Bula, who spent four years as head of football development and academy manager at Slovakian club MFK Kosice, told Marca his team had high hopes, including qualifying for senior international tournaments.
“I always set myself ambitious goals,” the Gibraltar native said. “I am not the typical coach with a small country who is happy with losing and getting congratulated for making a good impression.
“Many people might laugh, but my objective is to make it to tournaments, starting with this European Championship, and for Gibraltar to rise in the world ranking to No. 45.”