By James Crook

GIBR0001May 24 - Gibraltar, which has an area of only 2.6 square miles, has become the 54th member of UEFA today, despite previous threats from European and world champions Spain that they would withdraw their teams from the organisation's competitions should the British colony be admitted.

Spain has long has held claim to the territory, which was captured from the Kingdom of Castile in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession on behalf of the Habsburgpretender to the Spanish throne.

It was subsequently ceded to Britain "in perpetuity" under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and is now an important base for the Royal Navy - but remains a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations.

Spain made their threat of withdrawing teams from UEFA competition in 2007, when Gibraltar gained only three votes - from England, Scotland and Wales - from the 52 member associations to approve their application.

Gibraltar, which shares a northern border with Andalusia, then won a case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in 2011 which stated that UEFA could not deny their application as it is not a sovereign nation, which led to them being granted provisional membership.

UEFA President Michel Platini assured Spain, after the decision was taken during the UEFA Congress in London today, that they will be kept apart from Gibraltar in qualification for the 2016 European Championship, which will no doubt offer little solace to the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

"Gibraltar will not play qualifying matches with Spain - we also have this situation with Armenia and Azerbaijan,'' Platini said.

110149691Gibraltar has become UEFA's 54th and smallest member nation

Gibraltar now hope to build a new 8,000-seater stadium in time for the qualification stages of the 2016 European Championship.

"This is a momentous occasion for football in Gibraltar," said Gareth Latin, President of the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA). 

"UEFA membership means that we can begin the next chapter of Gibraltarian football.

"At last we'll be able to show the whole of Europe that we can match the best with football of a high standard and entertaining style.

"It will open up a whole new world of opportunities for our highly skilled young footballers.

"This is one of our greatest ever sporting moments."

The nation, which has a population of around 30,000, is now UEFA's smallest member, and will be able to enter teams to the 2014-2015 UEFA Europa League and UEFA Champions League.

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