LONDON (AP) – Gibraltar is in talks with potential opponents to enable European's newest - and smallest - football nation to play its first official match later this year.
The British colony became UEFA's 54th member in May after Spain failed with its campaign to stop the tiny territory on its southern tip being recognized by European football's governing body.
Now the team wants to make its international footballing debut at a time of increased political tensions with Spain, which has long laid claim to Gibraltar.
The latest spat involves an artificial reef being built off Gibraltar, which Spain says is hurting its fishermen. Spain has increased border checks and floated the idea of charging people entering and leaving Gibraltar.
Gibraltar Football Association president Gareth Latin said the country's first match, which could come in October in the allotted window for international matches, won't be used for political point-scoring,
Although many countries are involved in World Cup qualifiers those dates, Latin said the GFA is in talks with a couple of potential opponents for the ''monumental occasion.''
''We are going to try and play in every official date if possible,'' Latin told The Associated Press by telephone. ''It's a matter of just finalizing the friendlies with individual nations. Everybody books friendlies years in advance, so obviously it's very difficult.''
The senior team, which has only previously played unofficial matches, will enter qualifying next year for the 2016 European Championship.
UEFA President Michel Platini has already ruled that Spain and Gibraltar will be kept apart in qualifying in a bid to avoid inflaming diplomatic tension hostilities, as happens with Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Gibraltar was captured by Anglo-Dutch naval forces in 1704 and ceded to Britain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.
The British government said earlier this week that it is considering taking Spain to court if it does not ease border checks on traffic entering Gibraltar.
''It's not the first time it's happened to us, we are used to it,'' Latin said. ''We are hoping it can be resolved politically and they come to common sense.''
Gibraltar has six top-division teams and 600 registered senior players in its population of almost 30,000, who have full British citizenship.
The GFA, 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.
Gibraltar's original application predates UEFA changing its rules in 1999 so that members had to be U.N.-recognized states.
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