Top 10 International Football Moments of 2016

After looking at the Top 10 moments domestically earlier this week, we now turn our eyes to the international stage, where 2016 proved to be notable for both good and bad reasons.

Here are our Top 10 International moments:

10 – Gibraltar gets its first FIFA-listed referees

The most recent of the events on this list; Gibraltar saw its first referee’s given FIFA accreditation earlier this month, as Jason Barcelo, Johan Ward and Zyl Sheriff were presented their badges as a referee, assistant referee and futsal referee respectively.

The honour was the result of the hard work put in off the pitch by the Referee’s Association, and a recent exchange with the Maltese FA proved to be very fruitful for both Associations. Future agreements with the Andorran and Sammarinese FA’s are expected in early 2017 as Gibraltar’s referee’s get a further taste of officiating abroad, while the local league also gets to see how referee’s from these countries officiate the game.

9 – Gibraltar hosted by the newly-crowned European Champions

Less than two months after Eder fired Portugal to Euro 2016 glory, the Iberian nation welcomed Gibraltar as its first opponents since lifting the title, undoubtedly an honour for Gibraltar and arguably very ideal preparation for both nations in the qualification campaign that was to come. While Cristiano Ronaldo may not have been available due to an injury sustained in the aforementioned final, the European Champions put out a strong team including multiple European champions.

However, Gib held them to just a 1-0 scoreline at half time, and had they not tired in the last 20 minutes and conceded three, they’d have left with a scoreline which would have raised a couple of eyebrows. As it was, 5-0 was still a respectable scoreline against the Portuguese, who since have beaten Andorra and the improving Faroe Islands 6-0 – perhaps the friendly was ideal preparation for Fernando Santos’ side given their qualification group.

8 – Farce in Faro

The title may be hyper-critical of the national team’s performance vs Greece, but ultimately the nature of their 4-1 loss in the first qualifying game was definitely painful if not farcical. With two minutes until half time, Gib looked set to go into the break drawing with the 2004 European Champions having equalised through Liam Walker’s wonder goal. However, an own goal from Scott Wiseman in the 44th minute triggered an almighty collapse – by the time the half time whistle thankfully sounded, Gib found themselves 4-1 down somehow.

To Jeff Wood and the team’s immense credit, they regrouped for the second half and did not concede again, showing their mettle and resolve to a devastating goal-scoring blow which they perhaps hadn’t always shown. The three minutes of madness may have been a blessing in disguise for Gibraltar in the long term.

7 – Creditable draw and exciting debut the highlights of Liechtenstein friendly

A Wednesday evening in March at the Victoria Stadium saw Gibraltar and Liechtenstein battle out a 0-0 draw. While the scoreline may not have raised many eyebrows outside of Gib, the performance by the home side gave reasons to be excited for the locals, especially when the upcoming UEFA Nations League does pit Gib against nations of a similar stature to Liechtenstein.

The most notable aspect of that game though was the debut of young full-back Jayce Olivero. Then at Lions, he became Gibraltar’s youngest post-UEFA international aged 17 and put in a performance worthy of a player much senior than he is. His performance also allowed Joseph Chipolina to operate in a more advanced role like he does for Lincoln, giving Jeff Wood more flexibility. A late red card vs Cyprus was a minor blip in an otherwise successful year for Olivero, who has six caps and is now at Abingdon over in England, doing very well by all accounts.

6 – Gibraltar adds another talented keeper to its ranks

Photo (C) C Correa Photography

There was no indication before Jeff Wood announced his squad for Estonia and Belgium that any new naturalised players were even in contention for being called up. When Deren Ibrahim’s name was on the list, the Dartford keeper immediately became the first question asked of the manager.

Any doubts that may have lingered over Ibrahim have since lingered, as he’s proven himself to be capable of being Gibraltar’s number 1. Add him to Jordan Perez, Jamie Robba and Kyle Goldwin (who may consider himself unlucky not to earn a cap yet) and suddenly Gibraltar have a number of  strong goalkeeping optionsGibraltar has a tradition of producing good keepers, including the likes of Tony Macedo and Kevin de los Santos – our current crop of shot-stoppers are all very good additions to the team.

5 – Building for the future in association with Wales

Building for the long-term is clearly high on Jeff Wood and the GFA’s agenda, and the partnership with the Welsh Football Trust should go some way to helping this. The deal allows Gibraltarian coaches to develop on the Rock up to UEFA B level; previously coaches had to travel abroad to do this.

The deal also allows coaches to do their UEFA Pro License in Wales, a very popular and highly thought of country for gaining a coaches highest badge. While the effects of the partnership may not be noticed for a while, the agreement with the Welsh will go some way to helping the national team at every level going forward.

4 – Breaking records – albeit on the wrong end of them

There’s no doubting how good the Belgians are, especially after they scored seven past Cyprus and Bosnia without conceding. The question may have been how long Gibraltar could keep the score 0-0; no one had the answer as being seven seconds.

Taking advantage of a mistake by Gib, the Crystal Palace striker Christian Benteke punished the national team in emphatic style, breaking a record held by San Marino when Davide Gualteri fired past England in 8.3 seconds. Belgium went on to win 6-0; it wasn’t even their biggest win in the qualifiers as they hammered Estonia 8-1 in their next qualifier. Safe to say Roberto Martinez will guide this side to the 2018 World Cup with consummate ease.

Let’s hope the next record Gibraltar break is a positive one; maybe we can score a goal after six seconds in a qualifier….

3 – Progress made in the Qualifiers

A seven-second goal may not feel like progress, but Gibraltar has shown clear signs of improvements from the European qualifiers.  Both the second half against Greece and the first half vs Estonia showed Gib’s ability to hold their own against more established nature, with the next step to be to do this over 90 minutes in one match. Meanwhile, Lee Casciaro added a World Cup qualifying goal to go with his efforts in the Champions League and European qualifiers, the only shock being it wasn’t against a Scottish team.

However, in attack Gib showed that while their positive brand of football may leave them exposed at times, it isn’t without reward. The equalisers vs Greece and Cyprus were the fruits of Jeff Wood and the team’s work and they could even have scored more in both games too. It’s a shame there’s only one more international until June, as we look forward to seeing how Gib continue to fare on the big stage. With the UEFA Nations League coming up, there are promising signs emanating from the national team.

2 – Walker’s wonder goal against Greece

Gibraltar conceded a very good goal to Kostas Mitroglu, and the Greeks may have thought that alone would be enough for victory. However, Liam Walker and Gibraltar had other ideas. Cutting in on his deadly left foot, Walker curled an unstoppable shot into the top corner to level the scores and give Gibraltar serious hope.

While the end result is well known, Walker’s goal was a glimpse on the big stage of what the former Lincoln, Portsmouth and Bnei Yehuda playmaker can do – hopefully we get treated to even more in the coming months and seasons.

1 – Years of battle see Gibraltar finally enter FIFA

Gibraltar’s greatest ever victory was not fought for on the pitch, but after 19 years of battling by the Gibraltar FA, FIFA finally recognised them as an international football member back in May. At a congress in Mexico City, the GFA got the news they’d tirelessly worked towards, full recognition on the international stage after UEFA’s admittance in 2013.

While Gibraltar’s chances of ever making a World Cup are ultra-slim (unless a future FIFA president wishes to extend the World Cup to about 150 teams…), the fact that the youth of Gibraltar can even dream of wearing their national colours on the biggest stage in world football can never be underestimate. Generations of Gibraltarians were denied the chance; for some the recognition almost came too late.

However, Gibraltar can rest assured that the next generations of Roy Chipolina’s, Lee Casciaro’s and Liam Walker’s can enjoy a full career on the international stage, wearing the red, white and whatever colour Gibraltar chooses for a third kit of the national team. If ever someone says Gibraltar don’t deserve to be on this stage, explain that to them. If they still don’t understand, they clearly don’t fully understand the unfairly maligned international football.