European Qualifiers: A Review

Gibraltar started their historic first qualifying campaign against Poland, and no one really knew what to expect as the national team embarked into the unknown. Going into half time only 1-0 down would have surprised many, but after 60 minutes the score was 5-0, and the flurry of goals after the break would become all too familiar a sight at the qualification wore on, as would the 7-0 full time score.

A month later, and Gibraltar had their first double-header, which bought with it the task of a largely semi-professional team playing two games in four days. The first game was probably the worst performance the national team put in all tournament, as they lost 7-0 in Dublin, with the own goal from Jordan Perez summing up the performance of a team who had conceded all seven goals before then manager Allen Bula chose to take off Perez for Jamie Robba. It would take the St Joseph’s keeper until June to regain his place in the national squad.

That game was followed up by a 3-0 home defeat against Georgia, where Gib had a goal disallowed in front of 281 spectators, by far the lowest attendance the national team played in front of. Despite home games being played in Faro, a loyal following of Gibraltar supporters backed the team through thick and thin across Europe.

November saw a trip to Nuremberg, and a match against the World Champions. A ‘mismatch’ was the hot buzzword on most neutrals lips before the game, and talk of double figures and records tumbling were popular talking points. Instead, Germany only managed to win 4-0, including an own goal from Yogen Santos, and Liam Walker almost scored a wonder goal past Manuel Neuer, who spared the blushes of his manager Joachim Low.

We’d have to wait until March for Gibraltar’s next fixture, and it would prove to be an historic occasion at Hampden Park, as Lee Casciaro’s equaliser in the 6-1 defeat was Gibraltar’s first ever competitive goal. The two penalties conceded would become a worrying theme in the remaining games though, and is somewhere that Gibraltar can hopefully improve on in the coming years.

After a friendly defeat against Croatia, where Jordan Perez regained his spot in the national team, Germany once again were Gibraltar’s opponents. Perez impressed many with his first half performance, including the save of a Bastian Schweinsteiger penalty, but despite once again going in 1-0 down at half time, the team tired in the second half and the final score was 7-0 in favour of the World Champions, a result which perhaps flattered them slightly.

The second-to-last international break saw another double-header for Gib, as they hosted Ireland, before a trip to Poland. Against the Irish, they were vastly more resolute than in the away fixture, and Martin O’Neill’s side only came away from Faro with a 4-0 victory. Poland, spearheaded by Robert Lewandowski, who had already scored four vs Gib in Faro and was about to go on a superb scoring spree, scored twice as Poland went 8-0 up with 15 minutes to go. Gibraltar’s attacking play was rewarded with a second, and final goal in qualifying, when Bristol Rovers’ Jake Gosling fired past Swansea keeper Lukasz Fabianski.

Earlier this month, Gibraltar’s final two games took place. The away game in Georgia was wrongly seen by some as a chance for Gibraltar to pick up points; the Georgians had beaten Scotland in their last home game and would go on after this to almost draw in Germany. An uninspiring 4-0 loss, where the Georgian fans even booed their own team for their lacklustre performance at times, left many unfairly doubting new manager Jeff Wood, before the former Brighton and Lions manager had his chance to put his footprint on the squad.

10,000 Scottish fans travelled to Faro in anticipation of making the top three in Group D. However, Lewandowski’s last-gasp equaliser at Hampden meant this game was a dead-rubber, and in a rainy Faro, Gibraltar ended their maiden qualifying campaign with a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Gordon Strachan’s side.

With no competitive fixtures for three years now, the game against ScotlandĀ could prove the final competitive outing for a number of Gib players, such as Lee Casciaro and Roy Chipolina, both stalwarts of the national side for many years. For the time being though, Gibraltar must build to the future if they wish to improve on their record this time out.

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