INTERNATIONAL SOCCER

Gibraltar ties with Slovakia in first official match

Mostly amateur side representing British colony rock solid in defense

Gibraltar midfielder Robert Guilling (second left) and teammates celebrate with supporters after holding Slovakia in Portugal.
Gibraltar midfielder Robert Guilling (second left) and teammates celebrate with supporters after holding Slovakia in Portugal. FRANCISCO LEONG (AFP)

Perez; Wiseman, R. Chipolina, Higginbotham, J. Chipolina; R Casciaro, Walker, Duarte, Guilling; Lopez and Priestley. It's not a lineup likely to mean that much to you, but it is a historic one. This XI comprises the first Gibraltar team to play in an official match, a friendly against Slovakia, which took place on Tuesday in Portugal.

The outcome was a surprising 0-0 tie for a team mostly made up of amateurs. Though not exactly a major force in global soccer, Slovakia did reach the knockout stages of the last World Cup, at the expense of Italy.

The result was celebrated by the few dozen Gibraltar fans who had journeyed to Faro for the game. Because the Rock's 5,000-capacity Victoria Stadium does not meet Uefa requirements, it had to swap it for a venue 300 kilometers away on the Algarve that could house its entire 30,000 population.

"The natural thing would have been to play in Andalusia, but we understand that that might be complicated in the short term," the Gibraltar soccer federation said recently.

Gibraltar was admitted as Uefa's 54th member in May this year after a long campaign that began in 1997. Of the 23 players called up by coach Allen Bula, 19 play in one of the eight teams that make up Gibraltar's top division. The other four include English-born Scott Wiseman, who plays for Barnsley, and Danny Higginbotham, now at Chester, but who has also played for Manchester United, Stoke City and Sunderland.

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