Gibraltar reach 50 in Bulgaria

Gibraltar hit a huge milestone yesterday with their away trip to Bulgaria reaching 50 matches since being accepted into UEFA in 2013.

We spoke to Allen Bula, Jordan Perez, Ryan Casciaro, Joseph Chipolina and Anthony Bardon to get their thoughts on being part of history; as well as review the last seven years.

After more than fourteen years of frustration, with political battles with Spain proving to be a constant thorn in Gibraltar’s numerous applications, in 2013, acceptance into UEFA would be given the green light and Gib became the 54th member.

Allen Bula began his reign as national team head coach back in 2009 and would lead Gibraltar into a new era as an official UEFA member. 19th of November 2013 would be Gibraltar’s debut match in UEFA with a 0-0 draw to Slovakia.

That was followed by a 1-1 draw against Estonia, Jake Gosling the scorer. Gibraltar secured their first-ever win as a UEFA member, Kyle Casciaro scored the winner in 1-0 victory over Malta in 2014.

Gibraltar’s first taste of an official international campaign would be UEFA Euro 2016 with Germany, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Georgia making up Group D.

Allen Bula will famously be known for his approach to Gibraltar’s 4-0 defeat away to Germany, who were world champions at the time. We spoke to the former national team head coach to get his thoughts on being part of Gibraltar’s history in UEFA, Being a former Gibraltar National Team Manager has been one of the proudest moments in my life. From preparing the team for UEFA entry to helping GFA be accepted, to managing the 1st Match as UEFA member against Slovakia and the last match vs world champions Germany, will always be in my heart. Now the Gibraltar FA has reached a new milestone when they played against Bulgaria, their 50th match as UEFA member. Since the first ball was kicked in Gibraltar many years ago, the foundation was laid for where we are now. Too many people to mention have played their part to help Gibraltar in this very long road. I am extremely proud of all national players/managers/coaches/tech team, of all age groups that have and still give everything when representing Gibraltar, especially at the highest level.

Bula added, Always extremely proud of our 12th Player, our fans that have always given everything for the team. Gibraltar FA staff have and still work very hard, to give all the tools needed for the progression of all national teams. Not as easy a job as some might think. It is important that we all support both the association and the nationals teams Always, not just in the good moments, but most important in the bad moments. Congratulations to the Gibraltar Football Association and National team for achieving this milestone. Win or lose, I will always be very proud of my country.

David Wilson would take over from Allen Bula in March 2015 and be in charge for their defeat to Scotland. Jeff Wood would later be appointed as the National Team head coach in July 2015. Gibraltar’s maiden campaign would come to end, finishing bottom but plenty of experience gained – including Lee Casciaro and Jake Gosling scoring Gib’s first and second-ever competitive goals.

Another special moment which will go down in the Gibraltar history books is Jordan Perez saving Bastian Schweinsteiger’s penalty in June 2015. We got Perez’s thoughts on being part of it all, As always I feel privileged to have played my part in our footballing history. Ever since we first stepped onto the pitch as a UEFA nation on the 19th November 2013 at the Estadio Algarve against Slovakia where we managed 0-0 draw to our last game against Liechtenstein winning 1-0, it has been an unforgettable experience as a player, a fan and now a goalkeeper coach. I would not change a single thing about it from being substituted during a game in front of over 40,000 fans in the Aviva Stadium to performing the game of my life against world champions Germany, it has been an experience I would have never imagined having and will cherish it eternally. The future looks bright and my advice to our youth is that you have a unique opportunity to follow your dreams of becoming a professional football player as long as you consistently work hard.

Gibraltar became FIFA’s 211th member on the 2nd May 2016 after their application was made successful. Jeff Wood would be in charge of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign with Belgium, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia and Cyprus completing Group H.

Liam Walker scored Gibraltar’s first goal in the group on their debut match against Greece. Two months later and Lee Casciaro would become Gibraltar’s top goalscorer with two goals after netting in their defeat away to Cyprus.

With the Victoria Stadium still not fit for UEFA’s requirements, Gibraltar welcomed Cyprus to the Estadio Algarve for their “home” tie. Anthony Hernandez equalised and while fate looked destined for a draw, Pieros Sotiriou crushed Gibraltarian hearts when he scored an 87th-minute winner to give Cyprus the 2-1 win.

Heavy defeats would later follow the Cyprus result and Gibraltar would, again, finish bottom. Casciaro brothers are normally linked when talking about Gibraltar football with Ryan, Lee and Kyle all playing for the senior national team over the years. We spoke to Ryan Casciaro to get his views on being part of history – “It has always been an honour playing for Gibraltar even before being in UEFA. Once we were accepted into UEFA and realised the meaning of it when we were drawn in the first Euros especially getting the then world champions Germany and some home nations. Although the matches are hard the experiences and the exposure you get are worthwhile.”

In February 2018, Jeff Wood would be relieved of his duties as Gibraltar head coach. The Gibraltar Technical Director, Desi Curry would step in on an interim basis and secured a 1-0 friendly win over Latvia at the Victoria Stadium in March.

Late June 2018, Julio Ribas would be appointed as Gibraltar head coach on a three-year deal after leaving Lincoln Red Imps just two months prior. The Uruygran’s reign would begin in the inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament with Gibraltar placed in League D with Macedonia, Armenia and Liechtenstein.

After losing their first two games of League D, an away trip to Yerevan would be the city that Gibraltar created history. A second-half penalty from Joseph Chipolina secured a 1-0 win over Armenia and clinch their first-ever competitive win.

With the excitement still around the squad, Gibraltar would welcome Liechtenstein to the Victoria Stadium. Goals from George Cabrera and Joseph Chipolina scored in the second half to complete a remarkable comeback to win 2-1 and record back-to-back wins for the first time.

Joseph reflected on being part of Gibraltar’s history, “It is always great to be called up for the National Squad. It is a great privilege and honour to play in every game with our National side. I have been lucky to witness both the before UEFA moments and also during the UEFA period. I have to say both have been great, managed to meet and play alongside many good Gibraltarian idols such as Colin Ramirez, Kevin De Lo Santos and many more. Not only this but also during the new campaign following 2013, I have had the privilege of facing top nations such as Germany, Portugal both just after winning the World Cup and EURO Cup and also play against the best players.”

he added, “As I said before taking part for our National Squad is the main and most important thing. Then making history and also writing chapters in Gibraltar’s Football is an added bonus.”

Defeats to Armenia and Macedonia would follow, leaving Gibraltar to finish in a respectable third place.

Gibraltar would be looking to push on from their Nations League success into the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying campaign. Switzerland, Denmark, Republic of Ireland and Georgia would join them in Group D.

After losing their opening two games, Gibraltar would travel to the Aviva Stadium to take on the Republic of Ireland. A 2-0 defeat to Ireland would spell the end of Anthony Bardon’s international career. Speaking to FG, Anthony said “Gibraltar has played a vital role in my life. Playing for the National Team was by far the greatest privilege and honour I ever had in my life. I watch every game with so much love for the players because I know where we started and to see them now brings me so much joy. My passion now is to build on my academy which brings families closer to Gibraltar and to expand just how special Gibraltar is.”

A late goal from Giorgi Kvilitaia secured Georgia a 3-2 win after goals from Lee Casciaro and Roy Chipolina brought the game back to 2-2. While Reece Styche would score his first goal for Gibraltar in a 6-1 defeat to Denmark on the final game of the group.

Julio Ribas’ men would finish bottom of the group with three goals scored and thirty-one conceded.

After North Macedonia and Armenia gained promotion to Group C, Gibraltar hopes of further success in the Nations League looked possible. League D Group 2 would be their destination with San Marino and Liechtenstein.

Two wins from two places Gibraltar in a comfortable position to keep creating history and clinch promotion with a win on Saturday against San Marino.