Exclusive: Lincoln Red Imps hero Lee Casciaro talks Celtic goal, 2nd leg and Gibraltar
Sam Barnard, Assistant Sports Editor | July 17, 2016
Lee Casciaro speaks to Coral ahead of Celtic 2nd leg
Gibraltarian champions Lincoln Red Imps claimed the biggest victory of their history when they defeated Scottish giants Celtic 1-0 in a 2016/17 Champions League first leg qualifier, and goalscorer Lee Casciaro has taken the time to have an exclusive interview with Coral.
Policeman Casciaro netted just after half-time at his team’s Victoria Stadium, a ground that is shared by all the clubs in the oversees British territory, to embarrass Brendan Rodgers in his first competitive game as Bhoys boss.
But, more importantly for Gibraltar, who boast a total population of around half of Celtic’s 60k Parkhead capacity, it signifies another huge leap after only being granted UEFA and FIFA recognition in the past couple of years.
“Result means a lot for Lincoln and Gibraltar”
“For Lincoln and Gibraltar, the result means a lot,” Casciaro, who proudly plays alongside younger brothers Kyle and Ryan for club and country, told Coral. “Winning against a big club like Celtic here, it’s just a dream for all the players.”
Lincoln managed to shock Celtic after a fantastic all-round team display that saw them limit their visitors to just a handful of notable chances as well as creating a few themselves.
Some could argue that the unique setting of the ground, together with the hot subtropical Mediterranean climate and artificial pitch may have thrown the Hoops.
However, forward Casciaro (12/1 with Coral to score anytime in the second leg) puts the victory mainly down to the efforts of his team – half of whom have day jobs and some even had to work full shifts before the match.
“I believed we could cause them problems on the breakaway,” he added. “The team knew that we had to play well defensively and hit them on the break.
“Yes, the weather and pitch could have been a factor for them, but still we knew our game plan and it came out perfectly. We still had to work hard for it and can improve in certain aspects, but the weather and state of the pitch is for both teams.
“They are professionals and we had players working on that same day of the match, so I wouldn’t complain too much either.”
“Scoring against Celtic highlight of my career”
Casciaro may be approaching his 35th Birthday, but showed great pace, agility and awareness to latch onto the end of a Liam Walker long-ball and turn Nigeria international defender Efe Ambrose before slotting past Craig Gordon in the first leg.
— EuroMinnow (@EuroMinnow) July 12, 2016
His strike is not the first of importance, though, as the Ministry of Defence police officer also got Gibraltar’s first ever competitive goal – an equaliser incidentally against Scotland. While, he also helped Lincoln become the first club from the territory to win a tie in Europe, when he got the winner against San Marino side FC Santa Coloma last season in the Champions League first qualifying round.
On his favourite goal of them all, Cascario said: “Scoring against Celtic would be the highlight of my career, and also more importantly winning 1-0 for everyone at the club and Gibraltar.
“Beating Santa Coloma last year and getting the winner is also a highlight, but this tops it all up.”
— Lee Casciaro (@CasciaroLee) July 13, 2016
After winning the league and cup with the Red Imps (7/1 for a second leg draw in 90 mins) last season too, and having played against the likes of world champions Germany and Poland for Gibraltar, Casciaro ranks the Celtic victory above them all.
“Playing for your national side is always a proud moment in any person’s life, but winning against Celtic would be the highlight of my career.”
“We have nothing to lose”
But what next for Lincoln? Only half the job is done as they now travel to Glasgow, the same city where Casciaro scored against Scotland – although at Hampden Park.
In what has undoubtedly been the year of the underdog, with Iceland and Wales doing well at Euro 2016, Leicester City winning the Premier League and even Gibraltar’s very own Dyson Parody going far in the Gibraltar Darts Trophy and almost beating Michael van Gerwen, can Lincoln follow suit?
Gibraltar as a nation notably fared better on the road in Euro 2016 qualifying, after restricting Germany to just a 4-0 loss away, while both their goals against Poland and Scotland were on away turf too. So, can the Gibraltarians finish off the tie?
“It’s been a big achievement for us as a club but now we have to go over to Scotland and finish the job,” Casciaro said.
“We are going to enjoy the moment, and who knows? Their fans are going to be electric on the day. We will enjoy having thousands of fans cheering their team on. It’s going to be a dream for us to be able to play at Celtic Park.
“I would think that we are going to play the same formation and see how we do, we have nothing to lose really.”
Lee Casciaro factfile
Date of birth: September 29th 1981 (age 34)
Place of birth: Gibraltar
Day job: Policeman
International caps: 10
International goals: 1
Number for club and country: 7
Toughest player come up against: Robert Lewandowski
Desired international opponent: England at Wembley
Favourite club: Manchester United
Favourite player growing up: Paul Ince
“We will hopefully get our first few international points”
Meanwhile, looking forward to the near future when Gibraltar kick off their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, after they were finally granted FIFA membership on May 13th 2016, Casciaro has much to be optimistic about.
GFA, as they are nicknamed, face Greece first on September 6th, a team who lost twice to Faroe Islands in Euro 2016 qualifying.
Following that is a trip to Estonia, who feature many players from Flora Talinn – a club that Lincoln recently knocked out of Champions League qualifying.
“Playing for Gibraltar against those oppositions, we will try and get a result and hopefully our first few points, let’s see,” Casciaro said.
The Lincoln attacker has played every competitive fixture for his nation, but he still has to pinch himself how far they have come.
“I have been representing Gibraltar in football all my life but, being able to represent them at the level we are now, has been a long life dream for me, and I will cherish every moment I can for the rest of my life.
“If you would have told me that Gibraltar would be accepted into UEFA or FIFA I would have laughed my head off. It probably still hasn’t sunk in and it’s almost three years since we have been in UEFA and now FIFA.”
“Young players could have say in next few years”
The future of football in the territory certainly seems bright, and Casciaro added: “There are a few young players aged 15-16 that could have a say in the next few years. Hopefully they can be taken away from Gibraltar and make it into the professional world.
“That’s what we need really, scouts to come over and have a look at them or kids taken over to the UK or anywhere in the world, hopefully one day.
“Our national side is just beginning to grow, so playing games like against Celtic can only improve football in Gibraltar.
“Qualifying for the Champions League group stage I think is a bit too far at the moment for a team from Gibraltar to get in amongst the elite, but as long as we make a good of account of ourselves we are happy.”
As for Casciaro’s plans after he does eventually hang up his boots? “I’ll probably take it easy for a few years and then get back to coaching, but let’s see.”