Gibraltar ties Slovakia 0-0 in European debut
Gibraltar debuted as a recognized international team Tuesday, playing to a surprising 0-0 draw with Slovakia in an exhibition game.
The British colony overcame Spanish opposition in May to become the 54th - and smallest - full member of European soccer's governing body.
A few hundred fans, including Gibraltar First Minister Fabian Picardo, made the four-hour drive from the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula to support the team and then celebrate the unexpected result. The venue, which had the capacity to hold the nearly 30,000 inhabitants of Gibraltar, was otherwise empty.
But it mattered little to the Gibraltar fans and players, who lingered on the field to savor the draw after the final whistle.
The match was played at the Estadio do Algarve in Portugal while Gibraltar's stadium undergoes renovations to meet European standards. Gibraltar plans to host the Faroe Islands and Estonia in March in its Victoria Stadium.
Slovakia, which was missing several regulars, is ranked 65th in the world and 27th in Europe. Last week, it won 2-0 in Poland. But Gibraltar did well with a scrappy defense that blunted Slovakia's attack.
''Just few days ago, we were enjoying a victory at Poland after a very good performance,'' Slovakia coach Jan Kozak said. ''But that's another face of football. The result is a huge disappointment for me. We missed quality and that was reflected in our play.''
Spain has longstanding claims on Gibraltar, which was captured by Anglo-Dutch naval forces in 1704 and ceded to Britain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.
The Gibraltar Football Association, which was founded in 1895, applied to FIFA for membership in 1997 with the backing of England, but the world governing body delegated the decision to UEFA.
The match came after months of rising tensions between Spain and the tiny colony perched on a rocky outcropping near the western edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Earlier Tuesday, Britain's Foreign Office said it was summoning Spain's ambassador over what it calls an ongoing incursion in Gibraltar's waters by a Spanish research vessel.