Basque Country: The Spanish internationals playing for a different team
Spain’s oldest goalscorer Aritz Aduriz and other top players will line-up for an international friendly on Friday, but not for Spain.
The 37-year-old will lead the line for the Basque Country alongside fellow Spain internationals Inaki Williams, Inigo Martinez and Asier Illarramendi against the world’s 32nd best side Venezuela at Alaves’ Mendizorrotza stadium in Vitoria-Gasteiz.
The team, known as Euskal Selekzioa, is selected from players born in the autonomous region in northern Spain as well as the neighbouring regions of Navarre and the French Basque Country.
The Basque Country has a large degree of self-rule, its own language and cultural traditions and Basque Football Federation general secretary Kepa Allica says Friday’s match, their first since December 2016, is “more than a game”.
Players can play for both Spain and the Basque Country because the team is not affiliated with Fifa or Uefa, but that is their ultimate goal.
“This game is something more,” Allica told BBC Sport. “It is an identification with a region, where the people live, where they have grown up. It is very important for a lot of people here, we want our own team playing in official competitions.”
The Basque region is home to four La Liga teams Athletic Bilbao, Alaves, Eibar and Real Sociedad and these are where the majority of players are drawn from.
Aduriz is the Basque Country side’s top goalscorer with 12 goals in 11 games, while Sociedad legend Xabi Prieto is their record appearance holder.
Notable former players include Spanish World Cup winner Xabi Alonso, French World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu and Tottenham striker Fernando Llorente.
Allica says it is “not difficult” to call-up players who play for Spanish teams, but it is “more difficult” if they play in other leagues around Europe.
“[Playing for the Basque team] is very important for them,” said Allica. “If we select players, they want to play and try to feature in as many matches with the selection in their career.”
Spain beat Wales on Thursday night in a friendly and Chelsea’s £71m goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was the only Basque player to feature.
“We are not playing ‘official’ matches so it is understood that if Spain calls players up then they play for Spain, after that though they can play for the Basque Country,” added Allica.
In their last outing in 2016 Basque Country beat Tunisia 3-1 at Bilbao’s San Mames stadium.
In recent years they have hammered Peru 6-0, Bolivia 6-1, while they beat Uruguay 2-1 in 2003 and three years later lost 1-0 to Wales with former Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs scoring the winner.
Friday’s game, played on Spain’s national day public holiday, will be the third time Venezuela have faced the Basque Country, losing twice.
“I expect a rival of the highest quality,” said Venezuela manager Rafael Dudamel. “Beyond being a selection not admitted by Fifa, it is composed of players of the highest level.
“Surely they feel a great pride to represent their region and they are professional players who know that every time they jump on the court they are being very well observed and evaluated.”
Allica said the team is “always strong”, adding: “They are players from the same region, with more or less a similar style of play. It is a very important match for us and we want a good result.”
Basque Football Federation expects at least three-quarters of the 19,000-seater Mendizorrotza to be full.
One of those attending will be 23-year-old Harry Ball, a former youth team player at Antiguoko, a feeder team for Sociedad, which counts Aduriz, Alonso and ex-Arsenal and Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta among its former alumni.
“A lot of the Basque players are highly ranked football players, which goes to show it could be competitive if allowed to compete at international level officially,” he said.
“I personally believe we are at the level of a Ukraine. If we had the full team including players like Kepa, we would definitely be better than Scotland, better than Wales if we were recognised as a national team. Games [like Venezuela] are important to show we can compete.”
via BBC Sport – Football https://ift.tt/OHg7x6
October 12, 2018 at 08:42AM