Gibraltar’s three European club representatives enjoyed mixed fortunes as the Champions League and Europa League returned this week.
Photo (C) Rough & Ready Media
While Lincoln lost in the final of the Champions League Preliminary Round, both Europa and St Joseph’s drew 1-1 in their respective Europa League Preliminary Round matches, leaving their ties against FC Prishtina and B36 respectively on a knife-edge.
The week started positively as Lincoln comfortably beat Sammarinese champions SP La Fiorita 2-0, courtesy of goals from Anthony Hernandez and Alex Moreno. Having seen their opponents in the final, KF Drita, need extra time to beat Santa Coloma in the other semi-final, Lincoln may have fancied their chances of making it to the next round of the Champions League, but three extra-time goals from Drita on Friday night saw the Kosovan champions win 4-1 and progress to face Malmo.
In truth, Lincoln’s poor start, conceding in the second minute, contributed to a poor first half where they were unorganised and struggling to cope with Drita’s physicality. A double-change by Yiyi at half time worked wonders, with sub Pedro Corral scoring the equaliser from a corner, which took it to extra time – a late penalty shout from Lee Casciaro went unanswered by the officials, with the referee showing 13 yellow cards and two reds in the 120 minutes, including nine yellows and a red to Drita.
With Drita down to 10 men, Lincoln should have been in the driving seat, but when Bernardo Lopes saved a goal-bound effort with his hand, and rightly saw red, Drita took advantage to make it 2-1. From there, Lincoln threw everything they could at Drita, and had another penalty shout turned down, before two 120th minute goals for the Kosovan side added some gloss to a scoreline which largely flattered them – however they will face Malmo in the next round, while Lincoln take on the losers of Shkendija vs The New Saints in the Europa League Second Qualifying Round.
Thursday saw the two Europa League representatives make their bow, in two games decided by dead-ball situations. Europa, who hosted FC Prishtina, took the lead just before half time when Enrique Carreno scored a penalty that he had won. The Kosovan runners up, who pushed Drita hard in their league, equalised five minutes into the second half through Meriton Korenica, and much like Lincoln’s game vs Drita, the game was notable for how strong and physical the Kosovan side were – neither Lincoln nor Europa could match their opponents in this area.
As for St Joseph’s, they were away in the Faroe Islands against B36, and despite the challenge ahead of them, they earned a credible 1-1 draw away from home, to bring back to the Victoria Stadium. Lukasz Cieslewicz scored a penalty for the hosts, but less than 10 minutes later St Joseph’s would get a chance to level the scores from the spot, with Boro duly obliging. A strong performance from Gibraltar keeper Jamie Robba ensured that St Joseph’s return to Gib with every chance of qualifying to the next round of competition.
In terms of the battle for a third Europa League spot in Gibraltar, this week’s results have done Gibraltar no harm whatsoever – the one win and two draws give Gibraltar 0.666 points so far this season and for the time being see them rise to 47th from 52nd – should Gibraltar end the season 51st or above, then the 2019/20 season will likely see Gibraltar have three places available in the Europa League, with both the Champions and one Europa League team also avoiding the Preliminary Round and directly enter the first qualifying round of the Champions League and Europa League respectively.