Despite Cyprus 87th minute goal that cruelly denied Gibraltar their first international point at senior level, there was plenty of pride to be taken from Jeff Wood’s team in the 2-1 defeat where they more than matched their opponents for most of the game and on another day may have taken points.
Going into the game, the feeling from Gib fans was that they could get something today, but the home side got off to a bad start as Roy Chipolina inadvertently put the ball into his own net. Gib bounced back from that and found themselves level 20 minutes later.
Liam Walker, as he normally is whoever he plays for, was the architect; his through ball found Anthony Hernandez one-on-one and the Gib United midfielder showed a level of composure associated with someone more experienced and older than the 22-year old who found the side of the net to grab his first international goal.
The goal gave Gib a clear shot of confidence and dented the Cypriots as Gibraltar showed they can compete with teams deemed bigger than them on the big stage. They took control of the game but went in level – the big question was could they avoid the early second half goals that have plagued Gib since joining UEFA.
The answer was a resounding yes – Gib did not crumble early on and were more than capable of taking control of the game. The big moment for Gib came soon after, with Lee Casciaro bought down outside the box by Laifis, who got yellow but arguably could have seen red. O top it off, Walker’s resulting free kick hit the bar and the rebound hit a defender and then the post. In hindsight, luck may not have been on Gib’s side tonight.
Cyprus started to push for a winner as the game went on, realising they were in a real battle, and they did come close before Sotiriou scored in the 87th minute to break Gib hearts.
The game ended 2-1, but while the record books may state that Gib lost, everyone who watched the game will know the team deserved something and they could keep their heads held high after their performance.
No doubt some will find reasons for why Gib lost, looking at substitutes or whatever, but the fact that Gibraltar, on neutral soil in Faro, took a nation 38 times their size, who despite their player pool still relied on a naturalised Portuguese player who had played in Cyprus for 5 years in their first, to the very brink is proof that Gibraltar can compete.
On a night where fellow minnows Andorra made history beating Euro 2016 finalists Hungary 1-0, Gibraltar’s determined, battling performance was proof that, despite the defeat, they more than belong on the big stage.