A penalty from Tjay De Barr was not enough to stop Latvia running out deserved 3-1 winners over Gibraltar in Riga last night.
With experienced heads such as Liam Walker and Lee Casciaro not in the squad, Julio Ribas named a youthful first eleven, with only three of the first eleven 30 or over. Despite Lincoln arguably showing the blueprint to take on Latvian sides in the last couple of weeks, and with eight of the Gib team current Lincoln players (as well as Julian Valarino who is on loan at St Joseph’s from Lincoln), Ribas still opted for his ultra-defensive 5-4-1 formation, with damage limitation seemingly on his mind.
Latvia controlled the game throughout but were wasteful in attack themselves and needed a penalty to take the lead. After Scott Wiseman fouled Arturs Zjuzinz, and VAR, which was in operation for the first time in a Gibraltar match, confirmed the referee’s decision, Vladislav Gutkovskis put away his spot-kick to put Latvia seemingly on the path to a comfortable victory.
VAR however would come into play again and give Gib a lifeline though – after the referee somehow missed a blatant foul on Roy Chipolina in the box, the referee was told to watch the pitch-side monitor, where his clear and obvious error was shown and the decision for a penalty to Gib was eventually awarded. De Barr stepped up and equalized for Gib, in the process drawing level with Lee Casciaro on three goals as Gibraltar’s all-time leading scorer in the UEFA era.
Unfortunately for Gib though, this would wake Latvia back up and they would grab two late goals to secure their deserved victory. Gutkovskis got his second of the night with a tap in, then Andrejs Ciganiks wrapped up all three points with a good goal into the top corner, ensuring his side move on to four points in the group.
The nature of Gibraltar’s performance left a lot to be desired – 21 shots to 4 in favour of arguably the second weakest team in the group in Latvia showed their clear dominance, as did their 63% ball possession, and 338 accurate passes to Gib’s 171 (less than two accurate passes per minute). Ribas’ damage limitation policy may have seen Gib ‘only’ concede three, but it will have done little to inspire the Gib fans or encourage them to pay £25 to watch the team vs Turkey on Saturday (at the time of writing there are still 750 unsold tickets for the match). Gibraltar’s fans won’t be expecting their side to be dominating or winning these qualifiers, but they would most likely want something a bit more entertaining to watch, even in defeat.