Gunnar Nielsen looks forward to historic match against Kosovo
Proud goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen will captain the Faroe Islands for the first time in Frankfurt. That same fixture will see a more historic first, however: Kosovo’s debut international match as an affiliated member of UEFA and FIFA. The Faroe Islands are no strangers to making history on such occasions, famously defeating Austria 1:0 in their first ever competitive match. The Faroes will be hoping Kosovo’s celebratory mood will not extend beyond the referee’s whistle for kick-off.
Friend of Glory Gunnar Nielsen shares his thoughts on the Faroes' build-up to this momentous fixture.
“We’re really excited. Of course its Kosovo’s first ever official game, and being a part of their history is always a nice thing. Hopefully it’ll be a good game and we really look forward to it. They’re a new side and we’re going to see what kind of team they’re going to put out there. It’ll be a tough game – that’s one thing we know at least.
All these players from Eastern Europe are well-drilled and good technically, so we’re sure it’s going to be a tough game. Especially coming from the Faroe Islands – all games are tough for us that’s for sure. Being underdogs is a role that suits us, and we’ve played this role plenty of times before.
For some reason we don’t get too many friendlies – just qualifiers. So it’s good to have a game like this. Maybe the coach can try a few different things. I’m not sure why they chose Frankfurt as the venue – we’re just told where to go, so I really don’t know the reason behind that. Perhaps it’s because it’s halfway between us and them. [This seems to be a new phenomenon with friendlies, with Scotland recently playing Italy in Malta].
There are a lot of people from Kosovo living in Germany, so the atmosphere should be a good even though there’s only five or six thousand expected. Every international game is a big game for the Faroe Islands and for Kosovo. It’s quite a funny coincidence that one their players [Avni Pepa] plays in the same league as me, in Iceland. He plays for a team [ÍBV] on a small island just off the mainland.
It was raining heavily yesterday, so we were unable to train because the pitch was a bit heavy. We’re supposed to train twice a day. We haven’t done too much looking into the game yet. We’ve just been looking a bit at our attacking play and set pieces. I’m sure today we’ll talk more about the game and go into detail. However, we don’t know enough about them to go into their tactics.
We always like to finish training with an 11v11. It always gets really intense and quite close. It’s good though because it keeps players on their toes, and it’s something to look forward to on these trips. You have to do tactical things as well but these games are good fun. I was one of the young team that beat the older guys 6:0 before that away win in Greece. That training match was a really physical and intense game.
It’s a friendly game so there are no points at stake, but still, every international is a big game. Everybody takes it easy a few days before the game, then the squad becomes more focused as the match draws closer. We had some good results in the last qualifying round, after beating Greece, so confidence is high and we look forward to the fixtures.
My girlfriend says I sometimes get this look in my eye before a game, where I seem a bit crazier. I’m quite calm outside of football. I also tend to go ‘into my shell’ and am less social on matchdays. I’m just focusing on the game and my job. With regards to the team, we take it quite easy and listen to some music. We have set routines pre-match where we go for walks and have meetings and all of that.
Not a lot happens when you’re away on these trips. There’s not much to do outside of training. We will go to the city centre just to walk around. Otherwise we’re just at the hotel chilling. Taking it easy. We don’t get bored though. All the boys are quite close and we get on. We just try to enjoy each other’s company. There’s a lot of time to kill so we try to do different stuff. Quite a few of the boys play cards, sometimes go to the cinema or go for a coffee somewhere.
The FA always lets us choose who to room with – especially the boys who have been here a long time and know who they like to share a room with. A lot of us have been friends for a number of years, so it’s quite nice to have someone you know quite well. It’s OK to change every now and again, but it’s preferable to know the guy and each other’s routines. I’m rooming with our right back, Jónas Tór Næs. We go way back since we were small boys, and we’ve always shared a room together. People think he’s just a quiet, nice guy, but he’s actually really funny. I’m a bit tidier with my stuff but Jónas tries his best. He’s certainly an interesting character!
The squad’s a bit quieter without our usual captain, Atli Gregersen. I’ve been told I’ll be captaining the team in Atli’s place. It’s a big moment for me and I’m really proud of that. I’ve been played quite a few games for the country now, so even though I’m captain my role doesn’t change that much. I’m always the same. I like to be vocal so I wouldn’t say I’ll change a lot. It’s always an honour to captain your country.
I really don’t think a lot will change for me, as captain. I’m one of the more experienced guys now. I always try and help the players with whatever arises. I have a few important things to do before the game with the referees, but other than that I’m just going to try and be me and play in the same way. I’ll try and lead by example because that’s – in my opinion – what the best captains do. If I have to talk to anyone then I’ll do that. First and foremost, I have to look after my own game. The rest will come. I might say something before the game but it’s not going to be a ‘Braveheart’ speech.
Nowadays, we play a lot more and have a lot more possession than other past Faroese national teams. We’re a more technical team now, especially with the young players coming through. We always knew we had to start from somewhere and that the physical side was important. We play a lot more now and is something that’s come on a lot more in the past few years.
Sometimes when you beat a country like Greece everyone goes football-crazy and starts dreaming. We have a team which is maybe coming to the end of its cycle with the older players. We have a lot of good youngsters coming through (who are doing well in Denmark etc.) I think the future’s really bright. I’m not just saying that because it’s our team, I really mean that. I’m looking forward to the next few years to see where the team will go. Playing in Iceland you don’t get to see much of the Effodeildin, but the more young players who are coming through the better it is Faroe Islands."
– Gunnar Nielsen was talking to Jack Corbisiero-Peters