European Football - Gibraltar coach targets playoffs for UEFA's new boys

Gibraltar coach Allen Bula has targeted the playoffs as a realistic goal for his side who were included in the draw for the European Championship finals for the first time on Sunday.

UEFA's 54th and smallest member association with a population of about 30,000 were bracketed with three-times champions Germany, Ireland, Poland, Scotland and Georgia in Group D of the qualifying campaign. Bula said the draw marked the end of a long campaign for the tiny British territory on the southern tip of Spain.

"It really is a historic moment for us and the end of a very long 16-year journey. We have travelled a long road to get here," he told Reuters after the draw.

"But now everyone is waking up to the reality of what we are facing. The moment people saw us drawn with Germany they would have realised just how real this is. We are not living in a bubble any more.

"Of course it is going to be tough, but we are not coming along just to play. We are in a competition and obviously for us, to reach the playoffs would be excellent."

The top two teams in each of the nine groups qualify automatically for the finals along with the best third-placed team. The remaining eight third-placed teams compete in the playoffs with the four winners going through.

"That has to be our goal. We just can't turn up and play a game. We have to have a goal and that goal is the playoffs."

"We wanted one of the British nations and I am delighted we have drawn Scotland. There are a lot of Scots in Gibraltar and they will enjoy that."

Gibraltar have had a senior representative side since 1923 but most of their competitive football has been played in the Island Games, even though Gibraltar is not an island itself.

After losing all their matches on their debut in 1993, they won the Games in 2007.

They have also recorded a 3-0 friendly win over the Faroe Islands and drew 0-0 with Slovakia in November, their first official international after being elected as a UEFA member in May last year.

Until their new stadium is completed, Gibraltar will play their home matches in Faro, Portugal. Long-running political tension over sovereignty means they cannot play in neighbouring Spain.

UEFA agreed before the draw they would not face Spain in the qualifiers, but their name came out of the hat for a place in the Eureopean and world champions' group before being moved to the list headed by Germany.

"I had a feeling we were going to get drawn in the same group as Spain and that's how it came out," Bula said.

"I would have loved to have played against Spain and I am hoping that one day we can and that football wins over politics."

Although Bula does not see playing in Portugal as a problem for his team, he accepts it might be troublesome for the fans.

"Obviously for the fans it is a bit difficult and I would have liked to have played in Gibraltar but we will have to wait till our new stadium is finished."

Gibraltar, made up largely of amateur players, face a huge task in finishing anywhere but bottom in the group but Bula cannot be faulted for his ambition.

"We will go for it," he said, "We have to have a target and the playoffs are ours."