Monday 14 January 2013

Interview #3 (January 2013) – Gibraltar captain Roy Chipolina.

A staggering 16 years on from their initial bid for UEFA and FIFA membership it seems 2013 is the finally the time that Gibraltar will join the rest of the world in the upper footballing echelons. The long, seemingly never ending story of Spain, Gibraltar and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has been well documented over the years. We caught up with current national team captain Roy Chipolina to talk football, not politics.

Celebration...Chipolina scores for Gibraltar.
Approaching his 30th birthday Chipolina has seen pretty much all non-FIFA football has to offer, perhaps most notably winning what will likely be Gibraltar’s only ever Island Games footballing gold medal in 2007. Currently with his long-term club Lincoln F.C. the versatile skipper can play at the back or in midfield. Gibraltar have been one of non-FIFA’s most prominent flag-bearers but the new era they enter is one Chipolina is hugely excited for. The territory was included in UEFA’s under-19, under-17 and futsal draws and, intriguingly, they will meet England in the under-17 campaign. 

It seems likely that the senior team will make their long awaited debut in Euro 2016 qualification, reward for Chipolina who has been playing for the national team for over a decade having burst onto the scene as a 17-year old scoring twice against Orkney in his 1st Island Games campaign in 2001. In the interview we talked about his thoughts on Gibraltar’s performance within UEFA, his feelings on the current crop of players and what his career has left to offer.

NFFU: It’s been a long time coming. Can you explain how you felt when you found out that UEFA would have to accept the CAS decision and accept Gibraltar?

RC: It was fantastic for all us Gibraltarians to hear that UEFA would have to accept the CAS decision to accept Gibraltar. Although it is not the first time that Gibraltar has been provisional members, so until the final decision to accept or reject said application in May is done I will not be celebrating. 

NFFU: As a veteran of the team how much will it mean to you personally
when you finally step out for a full international either this or next

RC: It has always been a privilege and honor to represent Gibraltar but to do it in a full international would be something very special. Knowing that the hard work that we have all put in throughout the years has finally paid off. It would be the proudest moment of my football career.

NFFU: How many more years do you think you’ll have with the national team?

RC: I would like to think another 4-5 years. I have always been a committed sportsman training hard and taking care of myself. I will be turning 30 in two weeks time and the goal of representing Gibraltar in UEFA gives me even more hunger and desire to continue being committed so that I am able to play my part.   

NFFU: Do you think football will change drastically, both on and off the
pitch, in Gibraltar once the GFA is accepted into UEFA?

RC: Football has already begun to change since we were given provisional membership. Gibraltar national teams have been included in UEFA competition draws for the first time. Our official competitive debut will be in January, playing qualifiers for the 2014 Futsal Euro. The matches in Nice, France, will be against the host Montenegro and San Marino. The Victoria stadium has been resurfaced and the ground is now UEFA/FIFA compliant. There is a buzz and excitement within Gibraltar and we can only hope that we are accepted and are allowed to participate in such great competitions. 

NFFU: Would you say the 2007 Islands Game gold medal is currently your
proudest moment in a Gibraltar shirt?

No more...Gib (red) seem set to leave the Island Games
RC: There have been various moments which have made me extremely proud of wearing the Gibraltar shirt. Winning the 2007 Island Games was a very proud moment for me as it was the 1st and only time that Gibraltar had come home with the Gold in football but I still rate our 3-0 victory over the Faroe Islands in front of all our fans as my proudest moment. 

NFFU: It seems certain Gibraltar will no longer send a team to the Island
Games once they have UEFA membership. Will any part of you miss the bi-annual appearance at the Games?

RC: I have gained a lot of experience from playing at the Island games and have many fond memories but with no disrespect to the Games, I am sure that if we become full UEFA members the bi-annual Games will not be missed.

NFFU: What kind of football do Gibraltar players like to play? Would you
say it’s a mix between British and Spanish or is that too

RC: The Gibraltar national team has a lot to learn but we are all willing to do so and being accepted into UEFA will only aid in improving our standard. I admire both the British and Spanish styles of play and we all strive to be the best we can be.

NFFU: If Gib are accepted they will be the smallest nation in UEFA. How
do you think the senior team would fair in Euro 2016 qualification?

RC: Realistically we know we face an uphill as not to say impossible task and no-one will be expecting anything but heavy defeats from us. But you only learn by playing against better opposition. I am confident that by taking part in the Euro 2016 qualifiers more players will be given the opportunity of playing at a professional level in football thus improving the Gibraltar team. I like to think we might pull off a surprise or two.

NFFU: Do you think the Gibraltar domestic leagues stands national team
players in good stead for the international stage?

RC: No, as you cannot compare our domestic league standard to an international stage. But by being accepted into UEFA the development of players will improve in leaps and bounds thus improving our domestic standard. I believe the International stage will result in more players pushing themselves even harder resulting in more players playing abroad at a higher level.

NFFU: Do you think the national team set up is ready for qualification campaigns such as the World Cup?

RC: For Gibraltar being ready is participating in the qualifying campaign. We are realistic and know that none of the minnows ever qualify yet I am sure that participating will improve our standard in football. 

NFFU: Gibraltar saw off the Faroe Islands 3-0 in 2011. Given their
generally respectable results down the years, would you say the
Gibraltar team could rise above the group of UEFA minnows?

RC: Our win v the Faroe Islands was amazing. But we will keep our feet on the ground. This has given us belief that we can hold our own v the minnows in UEFA. But it will take time and a lot of hard work to rise above that standard. 

NFFU: Gibraltar were set to take on a UEFA member during the February international break but this seems to no longer be the case. Is it frustrating to find this no longer the case?

RC: It was very disappointing to hear that our friendly during the International break was to be cancelled. We were all very excited about experiencing our first away international fixture and this being cancelled was very frustrating but hopefully by being accepted in May we will be able to play many international home and away fixtures. 

NFFU: Liam Walker is currently a first-team squad member at Portsmouth
in League One. Do you think any other Gibraltar players could do a job
in England or indeed another major country at that level?

Pompey...Walker (right) in action for Portsmouth
RC: I believe there are various players who if given the chance could play at a professional level. We have proven on various occasions that we can beat professional opposition. In my opinion players like Lee Casciaro, Joseph Chipolina and Brian Perez could play at a professional level. 

NFFU: Which young players do you think could make an impact with the
national team in the years to come? 

RC: At the moment the player that stands out for me has to be Anthony Hernandez. He scored on his debut vs. the Faroe Islands at just 16. He is great talent.

NFFU: If you could choose the first full international Gibraltar play
who would it be against and why? 

RC: To be completely honest I have no preferences just becoming a full member in UEFA and having various internationals is good enough. I can’t wait.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Catalonia held by stubborn Nigeria

Catalonia were somewhat unlucky to draw 1-1 with Nigeria in Barcelona tonight. Over 27,000 saw the Catalans take an early lead via Sergio González and consequently dominate play, only to be pegged back by a fine counter-attacking strike from Bright Dike.
Tussle..the Catalans (dark blue) were made to fight

The Africans made the worst possible start when, in the 2nd minute, Godfrey Oboabona used his hand inside the box and the non-FIFA side were awarded a penalty. Catalonia’s most capped player, the now retired Sergio González, took the spot kick and consequently opened the scoring with his 2nd goal for the team. His novelty appearance was over 10 minutes later when Getafe striker Álvaro Vázquez replaced him. In the 13th minute Espanyol forward Sergio García went close after he was set up by Bojan Krkić. Unlike Bolivia in their heavy defeat to Basque County the Nigerians did not crumble, and in the 20th minute defender Marc Bartra had to be alert to deny Ideye Brown an equaliser. 12 minutes later and Krkić was unlucky not to score as the A.C. Milan front man steered a Joan Verdú through-ball narrowly wide as the non-FIFA side pressed. The chances continued to come and shortly after Verdú’s deep free-kick found Gerard Piqué at the far post, but his effort lacked power and went the wrong side of Chigozie Agbim's post. Nigeria reminded their hosts that they were still firmly in the game seconds before the interval when Portland Timbers striker Bright Dike hit the bar with a fine long-range effort. Kiko Casilla, starting after a late injury to Víctor Valdés, was beaten but the woodwork prevented an equaliser. 

Proud..the chanting never ceased
Catalonia made a raft of 2nd-half substitutions and 1 of them, Sergio Tejera, came close in the 54th minute when his near post shot was cleared off the line by Francis Benjamin. The Nigerians broke from the resulting corner and stunned the Cornellà-El Prat crowd when Dike turned Bartra inside out before firing a powerful shot beyond substitute goalkeeper Jordi Codina. The hosts went on the hunt for another goal and in the 72nd minute Jonathan Soriano shot over the bar from a dangerous Cristian Tello cross. Tejera headed wide shortly after as the Catalans became frustrated. Their best opportunity for a winner came with 1 minute to spare. Sergio Busquets released his Barcelona team-mate Tello with a splendid pass but the forward fired his shot a matter of inches wide of the post.

In the end Catalonia settled for a point and it was credit to the Africans for matching their hosts for much of the game. The Catalans will look to secure a winning return to international football next winter.

Match information – 

Score: Catalonia 1 – 1 Nigeria

Goals: Catalonia - Sergio González 3’ (pen.). Nigeria - Bright Dike 55'

Catalonia XI: Casilla [Codina 46’]; Bartra, Piqué [Amat 46’], Puyol [Montoya 44’], Capdevila [Alba 46’]; Sánchez [Busquets 46’], Xavi [Tejera 46’], Verdú [Tello 46’], González [Vázquez 12’ [[Roberto 46’]]]; García [Piti 46’], Krkić [Soriano 46’].