The first and so far only side from Gibraltar to compete in the UEFA Europa League, the Dolphins have a huge first qualifying round task as they take on ŠK Slovan Bratislava.
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Europa FC – formerly known as College Europa – were founded in 1925 and returned to the top division in Gibraltar two years ago. Since then, they have qualified for the UEFA Europa League twice – last season as losing Gibraltar Cup finalists and this time around as domestic league runners-up. Lincoln FC got the better of them on both occasions. The last of their six first division titles came in 1952 and they have a habit for trailblazing: midfielder Charly became the first player plying his trade in Gibraltar to play at a major finals at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
Where do they play?
Home and away is not a big issue in the Gibraltarian league; every game takes place at the 5,000 capacity Victoria Stadium, which boasts a picturesque backdrop of the famous Rock of Gibraltar. Since the population of Gibraltar is around 30,000, filling it for a league match would involve one sixth of the population deciding that they wanted to watch a game of football. However, due to seating being installed in both stands the revised capacity for Thursday's game will be 2,226.
A 4-0 aggregate defeat by Swiss league side FC Vaduz – the only professional club in Liechtenstein – represented a reasonable start to the club's UEFA competition history last season. The lowest ranked side in Europe this season, they kick off at home against Slovakia's ŠK Slovan Bratislava hoping to become the first club from the Rock to win a competitive European game. Last term Lincoln became the first Gibraltarian side to avoid defeat in a UEFA club game, drawing 1-1 at home to HB Tórshavn in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round.
Ones to watch
Cristian Toncheff scored 14 goals in 19 league games last season, and five more in the Gibraltar Cup. Part of the side that competed in the club's first UEFA Europa League games last season, the semi-pro Argentinian striker will not forget the experience in a hurry. "The feeling was incredible because none of the players ever imagined they would feature in a game like this," he said. "The main aim was enjoying it to the max." Goalkeeper Matt Cafer and right-sided wing-back Karim Piñero come with a decent reputation too.
Bruno Akrapović left the Dolphins recently, with newly-appointed sporting director Juan José Gallardo taking charge of first-team affairs on an interim basis. A player and coach in the second and third divisions in Spain, he has been working as a scout recently – useful, since his main task at his new club is to overhaul the squad, and challenge Lincoln's dominance in the league.
They said ...
"We are very happy to have been drawn at home first and against such reputable opponents. We will give it our best shot and I'm sure that with the backing of the Gibraltar football family we will put on a good performance and make it hard for them."
Peter Cabezutto, Europa director