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Saturday, March 23, 2019

RAETIA RETURN TO INTERNATIONAL ACTION



Little has been heard from Raetia since their one and only appearance at a CONIFA tournament, when they took part in the 2016 Football World Cup, which was held in Abkhazia. But, they are due to return to international action for the first time since March 2017 when they play the Vatican City in Rome tonight, 23 March.


Representing the historic region bearing the same name (which at one time or another covered parts of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, Austria and Germany), Raetia FA was officially founded in 2011, and a Raetian team played – and lost 6:1 to - Chagos Islands in November of that year in what was the début international match for both teams. The association was a member of the NF-Board, and played in the 2012 Viva World Cup in Kurdistan, where they lost three games out of four but managed to record their first international victory, when they defeated Tamil Eelam by a goal to nil.



The Raetians haven’t had too much to shout about since then. In thirteen matches since the 2012 Viva World Cup, they have won four and drawn one of them, including a 6:0 victory at home against Franconia in September 2015. They lost three out of their four matches in Abkhazia, but at least gained revenge for their 2011 defeat against Chagos Islands, winning 4:3 in Gagra.



Their last international match took place in Trubbach, Switzerland on 12 March 2017, when they lost 5:0 at home against Tamil Eelam at the Sportplatz Gufalons before a crowd of some 250 spectators.



Raetia chairman Yacine Azzouz and his squad, managed by ex-Raetia midfielder Boris Tradic, are busy preparing for their forthcoming friendly in Rome against the Vatican City, which takes place tonight (23 March), a game he has been looking forward to for quite a while. In a brief interview in the run-up to this evening’s fixture, Azzouz gave a brief resumé of both Raetia and its football association: 


“Raetia was independent until Napoleon conquered our region and split it up. Since then the biggest part of Alt Fry Raetia ("Old Free Raetia“) is part of Switzerland and what we call today the Canton of Graubunden (Canton of Grisons). This part is mostly Protestant, the separated parts such as the Valltelina (part of the modern-day Italian region of Lombardy and which includes the renowned ski-resort of Bormio) is mostly Catholic. But today, religion is not a big issue any more and there are from time to time voices from both sides of the border that want to re-unite Valltelina with the Canton of Grisions (with a referendum).


“The FA Raetia was founded in August 2011 and played in the NF-­Board World Cup in Kurdistan 2012. Our greatest success was the victory against Monaco in 2012 with our golden generation including Raetia legends such as Silvan Tomaschett, Alan Egli, Cafer Yildirim, Ugur Sihyürek, Simone Fontana and Manuel Rodriguez. All of our best players played in the 3rd and 4th Swiss division. Our best clubs, unfortunately, don’t play in higher leagues.”


FA Raetia line up before a match in 2018 (Photo courtesy of FA Raetia)




It has been a while since Raetia’s last fixture against a CONIFA side, and that, according to Azzouz, “was due to the WFC 2018 in London, a lot of teams were too busy during the summer break.” They did host the second edition of the Benedikt Fontana Cup in Chur last August, which saw them up against amateur teams representing Bern (who won the tournament), Basel and St. Gallen. The Raetians have also been busy indoors, with their Futsal team taking part in a tournament in Liechtenstein in January.


Times, and teams, change in football, and this has not been lost on Azzouz, who has overseen wholesale changes in the Raetian squad, who qualify to play for the team by virtue of their – or at least one of their parents – having been born in the Graubunden region, since their defeat against Tamil Eelam back in 2017.


“The team is much younger [than that of two years ago] and unfortunately the best clubs from our region have been relegated [to the lower levels of the Swiss Regionalliga]. We are in a period of transition and we hope to build a new team with the great spirit of the teams that went to Iraqi Kurdistan 2012 and Abkhazia 2016.”


The team is entirely drawn from Swiss-born players, though some of them have played football in Liechtenstein. It means a lot for the players, as Azzouz put it, “to represent their ‘Heimat’ [loosely translated as ‘homeland’]. There’s no equal English word for it. Heimat is more than a geographical location, it’s a feeling. It’s where you feel at home and where you belong to.”


The team faces challenges going into the future, the biggest of which, according to Azzouz, is trying to improve the squad’s standard of football. More immediate is the challenge of trying to qualify for next year's CONIFA World Football Cup, which is scheduled to be held in Somaliland. “That’s our goal, and we are doing everything to achieve that goal.”


But first to tonight’s friendly at the Campo Cardinal F Spellman and its famous view of St. Peter’s Basilica, a game that has been a long time in coming, and a game which just might provide a springboard to success for the Raetians. Azzouz: “We [have been] trying to arrange a friendly game with the Vatican since our foundation in 2011. Finally, we have the great pleasure to travel to Rome and meet our friends from the Vatican City!



RAETIA SQUAD FOR THE FRIENDLY AGAINST VATICAN CITY (Rome, 23 March; KO: 20:00):



GOALKEEPER: Tomas GENSETTER

DEFENDERS: Marco MITTNER, Guiseppe LENTO, Baerni AEBERSOLD, Daniel BAECHTIGER, Patrick BUCHER, Lucas AEBERHARD

MIDFIELDERS: Fabio KOLB, Bashkim SELIMI, Stephan BOLAY, Samuel WALDIS, Adrian LEMMENMEIER, Tino DEMENGA
FORWARDS: Amir AGAEI, Mirco OSWALD, Paolo BOTTONI

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Yacine Azzouz, FA Raetia chairman, for his assistance with the above article. Some of the information contained above was gleaned from CONIFA's website and Wikipedia.

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