Last week’s goalscorers Kike and Alex Quillo both saw red in a crazy minute as Europa lost 3-1 AET to Welsh Champions TNS, exiting the Champions League by losing 4-3 on aggregate.
Despite winning 2-1 away from home last week, Europa could not build on that scoreline, but seemed to have the game in relative control until the Estadio Algarve saw a familiar sight; two goals in quick succession by the opposition. Scott Quigley, who scored what turned out to be a vital goal in the first leg, tormented Europa again, and his efforts led to Ivan Moya putting the ball into his own net after 37 minutes. Four minutes later, the Welsh side struck with their second shot all game, and Europa suddenly found themselves on the back foot.
They were given a helping hand, literally, early in the second half as the visitors gave away a penalty for handball. Gib international Liam Walker fired the ball into the back of the net from 12 yards, and it seemed Europa had a real chance of going through. What happened soon after was madness though and was pivotal in the match.
Kike, so pivotal for Europa normally, was given a straight red by Belgian official Lawrence Visser, and in the aftermath Quillo also picked up two rapid bookings, to make Europa’s challenge near on impossible.
To their credit, they held on for the final 30 minutes of the game, and almost the entire first half of extra time before Quigley eventually broke the nine-man resistance, ending the tie effectively as Europa needed to score two goals while two men down. To compound the crazy nature of the game, referee Visser needed treatment near the end of the game, but neither team could score a further goal and the game ended 3-1.
Europa will no doubt be disappointed at the nature of their defeat, especially after being 2-1 up from the first leg and the way they picked up two reds so soon after making it 2-1 on the night, but a potentially bigger problem may lie in the suspension picked up by Kike. If it is three games, he would miss Europa’s next set of qualifying fixtures – if he continues his usual form into the league next season then that loss will be felt hard in the matches next season.
The other question will be about the effect of the Estadio Algarve, where even the national team have failed to win a competitive game. Had the game been on the Rock, we may be looking at a completely different story (as proven by both Europa and Lincoln’s performances at the Victoria in recent years in Europe), and it seems logical that Gibraltar’s biggest clubs would push extremely hard for the necessary improvements to be made well in time for next year’s campaign – the advantage of playing your home games at your proper home can never be underestimated, and the rewards for local teams both on and off the pitch could potentially be massive.