Spanish representatives Vasca carry the hopes of the Basque nation to Poland.
By Andy Hall
Situated on the northern coast, the Basque country, País Vasco or Euskadi has a different appearance to the arid zones further south within the Spanish peninsular - the terrain is rugged, mountainous, lush and green while the Atlantic coastline is dotted with fishing ports.
Basques are passionate about cuisine and all types of sport, not least their own indigenous games like pelota. Their strength is put to the test during local fiestas with events such as chopping tree trunks and lifting heavy weights. Meanwhile, the local passion for football has seen Athletic Club Bilbao, Real Sociedad de Fútbol and Deportivo Alavés thrive in Europe and the Primera División.
THE MAN IN COMMAND
At 45, José Antonio Goikoetxea can look back on more than 24 years in coaching. Having been in charge of the team for two seasons, he led his side to the Spanish amateur title last season. His playing days were spent in the centre of midfield for the Bizkaia-based Arenas Club, but he quit at the age of 21 to take up coaching, starting with training children before moving on to senior teams in the Bizkaia region.
uefa.com: What are you hoping to achieve at the Regions' Cup finals?
Goikoetxea: Our squad comprises players who are competing in clubs in the Tercera División. Many of our regular players are now heavily involved in the battle for promotion with their respective clubs and so unfortunately, I doubt that we will be able to count on them during the finals. We have put together a new side - quite an experimental team – but I hope that we can be just as successful without the absentees. If I felt that we were not in with a chance then I would have to stay at home - you must go on to these tournaments with the hope of winning.
uefa.com: Have you enjoyed playing in the competition so far?
Goikoetxea: The experience of qualifying in France was fantastic. The entire week is dedicated solely to football with a timetable and structure that is more or less the same as a professional team. The players are in the same place, wake up at a specified time for training in the morning then play a game in the afternoon. We played on very good pitches and in every way, the experience was very positive for us.
uefa.com: What do you feel are the strengths of your team?
Goikoetxea: We have a common characteristic of Basque football meaning that above all, we are a team – a unit that functions as one. I think we have a very compact, industrious side, one that is prepared for sacrifice and to give the maximum.
uefa.com: What kind of professions do you and your players have?
Goikoetxea: Some of the players are students who are continuing their education at university and others have jobs – one is working in an administrative post and another works in construction. It's a young team, half of whom are studying.
uefa.com: What would winning the trophy mean to you?
Goikoetxea: For us, winning would mean everything, not only for us but for the region. This is an official, European tournament and is a great opportunity to display our talents.