With Gibraltar’s UEFA Nations League campaign over and the domestic season in full swing, we took a time out to reflect on what we thought of their tournament.
In the build-up to the start of the tournament, there was a real good feeling around not only the stadium but Gibraltar itself. The “It’s coming home” slogan was slapped across all forms of social media and it not only got the players believing but most importantly, the fans. The morning of the opening game, at home to Macedonia, everyone was buzzing and us media were eager to see Julio Ribas in action.
Macedonia came into the game as favourites to not only win the game but to win the group so it was always going to be an uphill task. Led by former Inter Milan forward Goran Pandev, the visitors strolled to a comfortable 2-0 lead at half-time and came out in the second half with a much more laidback approach which gave Ribas’ men time to find their way in the game. The game finished 2-0 and all eyes were now on Liechtenstein away.
Many Gibraltarians knew that Liechtenstein were going to be an opponent which we could hold our own against, and despite being the better side through stats, Gibraltar came out with a 2-0 defeat courtesy of goals from Salanovic & Wieser. With 58% possession, 504 passes and an passing accuracy of 80%, this, we feel, was the confidence booster which Gibraltar needed.
A few weeks later and Gibraltar were away to Armenia in mid-October with the best Gib has to offer, pitting themselves against “Henrikh Mkhitaryan and co”. A fantastic team performance and the luck of the footballing gods on their side, Gibraltar came away with an historic 1-0 win thanks to a penalty from Lincoln Red Imps defender Joseph Chipolina. Goalkeeping heroics from Chino, captain fantastic Roy Chipolina clearing up at the back and the more defensive duo of Bardon & Pishu keeping Armenia captain Mkhitaryan quiet for the 90 minutes – it was a result that people in Gibraltar will never forget about!
Three days later and the “heroes of Yerevan” would now face the more “relaxing” tie of Liechtenstein at home. With their confidence sky high, Gibraltar never looked like they came out in the first half, with Liechtenstein looking comfortable in the first half and leading through Salanovic. A team-talk from Julio Ribas and his “Gibraltarian Warriors” came out all guns blazing in the second half and equalised through George Cabrera on the hour mark and just five minutes later, took the lead thanks to the ever-brilliant Joseph Chipolina. The final whistle ran and the Victoria Stadium erupted as Gibraltar had not only won their second ever game, they did it back-to-back and scored more than one goal – incredible scenes for everyone involved in the local game.
With the players on cloud nine and expectations at an all time high, November came around and Armenia will be looking for revenge against Gibraltar. Only 10 minutes in and Lee Casciaro intercepted a pass and sent 18-year old Tjay De Barr on his way, rounding the keeper and slotting the ball into an empty net – showing the composure you’d expect someone double his age to have.
As we said before, luck was on our side in Yerevan and it was on Armenia’s in the Victoria Stadium; dubious offside decisions and conceding three goals in six minutes left Armenia flying and Gibraltar depleted. The risk which brought playing your strongest team didn’t pay off for Julio and his team-mates as they were left licking their wounds after a distasteful 6-2 defeat. The other ray of positivity to take from the game was Adam Priestley, who came off the bench to score and gave Ribas another attacking option in the future.
The final game of the Nations League saw Gibraltar travel away to Macedonia with nothing really important to play for except the chance of not being the bottom seed for Euro 2020 qualifying. Julio made four changes for the game with Matt Cafer, Aymen Mouelhi, Louie Annesley & Andrew Hernandez replacing Kyle Goldwin, Joseph Chipolina, Alain Pons and Anthony Hernandez.
In a very cold evening in the Philip II Arena in Skopje; Gibraltar never looked like they turned up. With the hosts captain Pandev out through suspension, up stood Levante’s Enis Bardhi who was a threat throughout and scored a stunning goal to give his side the lead. Listening to the GBC commentary and we agreed with everything that came out of David Wilson’s mouth during the game – the stats did too with 18% possession, 181 passes and not a single shot.
Conclusion: If we had to rate Gibraltar’s campaign out of 10, we would give the team a 8. The two wins are the main reason for the score is so high but not addressing the weakness in midfield, which lacked bite at key times defensively, and the game at home against Armenia in general are something which Julio Ribas has to look at and can be used as tools to improve for future tournaments.
The Nations League was originally met with skepticism across the continent when it was unveiled, but for Gibraltar it always offered a chance for progress and the team took that chance with both hands, creating opportunities that will live long in the memory and giving themselves a platform to build upon for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers.
All in all, a campaign which people in Gibraltar will never forget about.