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Lincoln discover Europa Conference League group stage opponents

Lincoln Red Imps have been draw in Group F of the 2021/22 UEFA Europa Conference League, where they will face FC Copenhagen, PAOK & Slovan Bratislava

Photo ©UEFA

Today’s draw, which took place in Istanbul, saw Mick McElwee’s side enter a Group Stage of a European competition for the first time – making history for Gibraltar in the process. The reward for their 4-2 aggregate win over Riga is trips to Copenhagen, Bratislava (a return to Lincoln’s Europa League opponents) & Thessaloniki, as well as hosting said teams at the Victoria Stadium.

The kick-off times for all six fixtures will be confirmed by Saturday morning, with matches expected to take place on 16th September, 30th September, 21st October, 4th November, 25th November and 9th December. FG will bring you all the fixtures when they are confirmed.

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Lincoln to play Slovan Bratislava in Europa League

Lincoln will face Slovakian side Slovan Bratislava in the Third Qualifying Round of the Europa League after defeat against Cluj last night in the Champions League.

Lincoln, who travelled to Romania knowing they needed to overturn a 2-1 first leg defeat, were not able to convert their numerous chances, while the hosts were more ruthless as they ended up running out 2-0 winners courtesy of goals from Mike Cestor and Iceland international Runar Mar Sigurjonsson.

The result may have bought to an end Lincoln’s Champions League journey, but their European journey is far from over, as they now transfer to the Europa League where they will face Slovan Bratislava, who lost 3-2 last night away at Swiss side Young Boys.

The winner of that match will progress to the playoff round of the Europa League, while the loser will move into the playoff round of the Europa Conference League, meaning Lincoln are guaranteed to be the first ever Gibraltarian side to take part in the final qualifying round of any European competition. The draw for the playoff rounds of both tournaments takes place on August 2nd.

In other Lincoln news, striker Tjay De Barr appeared as a triallist for English League 1 side Wycombe Wanderers, coming on in the second half of a 1-0 victory against FA Cup Champions Leicester City. The 21-year-old, who scored twice in Lincoln’s 5-0 victory over Fola Esch earlier this month, is looking to make the step abroad once again, after an injury-hit spell at Real Oviedo Vetusta.

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Five-star Lincoln blow away Fola Esch

Lincoln Red Imps will face Romanian champions CFR Cluj in the Second Qualifying Round of the Champions League after a 5-0 demolition of CS Fola Esch yesterday at the Victoria Stadium.

Photo (C) David Roberts

Lincoln, who drew the first leg 2-2 in Luxembourg after being 2-0 up, were ruthless on this occasion against their visitors, putting five goals past two different keepers across the 90 minutes to win 7-2 on aggregate.

Mick McElwee started with seven Gibraltarian’s on the pitch, including the returning Chino in goal, while Fola Esch manager Sebastien Grandjean made five changes from the side that drew the first leg – however it did not have anywhere near the desired impact.

Liam Walker’s corner in the first half was headed at goal by Roy Chipolina, and rebound fell kindly to Tjay De Barr to open the scoring for Lincoln. Chipolina then cleared one off the line for his side, before Lincoln doubled their lead on 38 minutes. De Barr, who had a very impressive game, was fouled by keeper Thomas Hym, who was shown a yellow card, and Walker stepped up to double the Lincoln lead.

10 minutes after the break, Lincoln broke free of the Fola Esch defence, and De Barr squared it to Kian Ronan who fired his effort impressively into the top corner and make it 3-0. The tie was all but over already, but it was rubber-stamped when Hym, who had a poor night in goal, gave away a second Lincoln penalty and picked up a second yellow for his troubles. Walker stepped up and fired a second penalty past sub keeper Emanuel Cabral, while there was still time for a 5th, as Kike unselfishly squared the ball to De Barr for his second of the evening, and Lincoln’s 5th – the 5-0 scoreline is the biggest by a Gibraltarian team in Europe, surpassing Europa’s 4-0 success against Andorran side Sant Julia in 2019.

Lincoln will now face Romanian champions CFR Cluj, who stumbled through in extra time against Bosnian side Borac. Leading 3-1 from the first leg, Cluj lost 2-0 in 90 minutes but benefitted from the scrapping of the away goals rule – they then won the tie in the 118th minute. The first leg will be in Gibraltar on Tuesday 20th July at 6pm, with the second leg in Romania on Wednesday 28th July at 7:30pm.

An added bonus for Lincoln is that they are guaranteed a minimum of six more matches in Europe this season, and at very worst will reach the playoff stage of the Europa Conference League – should they win one more two-legged tie this season, they will make history and be guaranteed to be first ever Gibraltarian team to qualify for the group stage of a European football competition.

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Gibraltar’s European sides get season underway

Gibraltar’s four European representatives played their first leg matches this week, with three of them drawing their opening matches in European competition this season.

Photo © David Roberts

After the introduction of the Europa Conference League, Gibraltar had four teams qualify for Europe for the first time – which meant Mons Calpe were making their European bow in the first match of the week involving a local team.

Cesar Vega’s team hosted Andorran’s Santa Coloma at the Victoria Stadium on Tuesday evening. Despite having the better of the first half, they went in behind at the break to a goal by Xavier Puerto. The second half was a complete role reversal – Santa Coloma had numerous opportunities and were denied by Mons keeper Christian Fraiz, before Mons striker Aritz Hernandez, who signed in the summer from Lynx, scored from close range to secure a draw.

Attention then turned to the Champions League, where Lincoln travelled to Luxembourg to face Fola Esch. Mick McElwee’s side appeared to be heading to a win after goals from Fernando Carralero and Ethan Britto gave Lincoln a two-goal lead, but Fola Esch scored twice in little over a minute through Stefano Bensi and Denis Ahmetxheka to secure a 2-2 draw – Lincoln host Fola Esch on Tuesday at 6pm, and ticket information should be released imminently.

Last night, St Joseph’s travelled to Tallinn, which at 3,373km was the longest journey made by any team in the Conference League this week, to face Levadia, but they had a nightmare start going 2-0 down in 10 minutes courtesy of goals from Zakaria Beglarishvili and Ernest Agyiri. Saints tried to battle back but conceded a third from the spot as Marko Putincanin appeared to put the tie beyond doubt. However, moments later Cristian Pecci grabbed a consolation which in the grand scheme of things gives Saints a chance, albeit low, of qualifying when they play at the Victoria Stadium next week.

The final game of the week saw Europa host Lithuanian side Kauno Zalgiris. Despite their visitors being 19 games into their league season, they came in on the back of four games without a win, and Europa dictated play for almost the entire game. However, they lacked the finishing touch on a number of occasions and in the end had to settle for a goalless draw.

It is also worth noting ahead of next week that the away goal rule was abolished for this season – so while Mons Calpe currently benefit from that rule, Lincoln and St Joseph’s goals away from home will not play a part if the scores end up tied after the second leg.

Next week’s fixtures:

Tuesday 18:00 – Lincoln v Fola Esch (Victoria Stadium)

Thursday 18:00 – Kauno Zalgiris v Europa (Suduva Stadium)

Thursday 18:30 – St Joseph’s v Levadia Tallinn (Victoria Stadium)

Thursday 18:30 – Santa Coloma v Mons Calpe (Estadi Nacional)

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Lopes: “We worked extremely hard and got what we deserved”

FG caught up with Lincoln defender Bernardo Lopes to talk about his sides Rock Cup final victory over Glacis, completing the domestic double and more.

Lopes reflected on Lincoln’s 2-0 win in the final, “Firstly, I would like to congratulate Glacis on a great game. I think the team played well and wanted to win the final. We have fought until the last minute and after a very difficult end of the league, playing so many games and fighting for the league until the last game. We have tried to maintain professionalism and a great attitude to win the double after a “different” year.

We asked Bernardo how it felt to complete the domestic double in the space of four days, “I feel very happy, it was something that we had not achieved in recent years but this year we worked extremely hard and got what we deserved. It was an incredible feeling and a lot of happiness to bring the trophies “home” again.

Lincoln triumphant league campaign means they will be playing in the Champions League next season, we asked Bernardo how it feels to be playing in the UCL again, “It is incredible because it is the best club competition and something that all players want to play in. After a year of hard work and effort, having this opportunity is incredible and spectacular.

The 27-year completed his sixth league campaign with Lincoln and has been one of their most consistent performers over the years – Bernardo reflected on his time in Gibraltar, “It has been six years with many joys but also with less good moments. I think that has made me grow as a person and on the pitch. I have met spectacular people who have taught me a lot. To sum up how my six years has been – it has helped me and taught me a lot and where I have grown a lot.

Lastly, we asked Bernardo about Mick McElwee’s role in the team – “I think that his knowledge, experience and way of passing on his ideas to the players was super important this season. I have listened to him and done what he asked of me, we have talked a lot, and I think he and all of the coaching staff have been great. They have prepared us for what we were going to play and mainly for the team to be strong psychologically and physically to do what we have done this year. They have created a united and very very strong team.

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Lincoln complete domestic double

Lincoln secured the Rock Cup yesterday after beating Glacis United 2-0 just three days after clinching the league title.

Kike put the Imps ahead after only four minutes and goalkeeper Lolo Soler made a save shortly after to keep Lincoln 1-0. up. Glacis should have equalised in the 18th minute when Chibuike Nwosu found himself running on goal but his shot was saved by Soler.

Lincoln would punish Glacis just seconds later when Kike’s cross found Fernando Carralero to tap the ball into the net to make it 2-0. Nwosu would continue to cause Lincoln problems with his pace and power, resulting in a penalty for Glacis when Jack Sergeant tripped up the Nigerian.

The former Imps midfielder Craig Galliano stepped up and his low shot was saved by the Spanish goalkeeper. Imps would go into the break leading 2-0.

Half-time substiutie Alessandro Borghi had a chance to pull a goal back for Glacis on the hour mark but he dragged his shot wide from inside the box. Both teams made a number of changes but Imps held on to secure their second trophy in the space of three days.


Lineups

Glacis United – Zappacosta; Smith, Ajayi, Castle, Derksen, Bosio (Ramos 77), Witbreuk (Borghi 46), Galliano (Moreno 64), Serra, Nwosu, Londero (Olugbogi 86)

Unused subs: Gallo, Byrne, Fluxa

Lincoln Red Imps – Soler, Ronan (De Barr 65), Wiseman, Lopes, L.Casciaro (Cabrera 80), Toscano (Britto 59), Carralero, Martinez (Wall 80), Sergeant, Kike (Moreno 59), Torrilla

Unused subs: Goldwin, R.Chipolina

Yellow cards: Ajayi, Witbreuk, Nwosu, Londero, Fluxa; Lopes, L.Casciaro, Toscano, Torrilla, Goldwin

Red cards: None

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Lincoln to play Glacis in Rock Cup Final tonight

Lincoln Red Imps and Glacis United are set to contest the 2021 Rock Cup Final this evening at the Victoria Stadium.

Photo (C) William Gracia

The final, which wasn’t even certain to take place until earlier this morning sees Lincoln, who lost in the semi-final to Europa but were put into the final after the Gibraltar FA alleged Europa to have breached competition rules, face a Glacis team who have had to prepare to face one of Gibraltar’s top two since last month, despite not knowing until today exactly who their opposition was.

Europa had applied for an injunction against the GFA, but the Supreme Court chose to turn it down this morning due to the effect it would have had on Glacis, who through no fault of their own would not have been able to contest the final had it not taken place today. Europa have in recent minutes released a statement on today’s Supreme Court Judgement, which you can read here.

As for matters on the pitch, 17-time winners Lincoln will be facing 4-time champions Glacis United at 7pm in what is being billed as a ‘David v Goliath’ battle. Both teams took starkly different routes to the final – Lincoln had to face Championship Group sides Lions, Lynx and Europa to get to the final, while Glacis beat Hound Dogs, Mons Calpe and Manchester 62 on their path to the final. However, Glacis are just 90 minutes away from qualifying for Europe for the first time – should they win, they will enter the Europa Conference League in the summer. If Lincoln win, Mons Calpe in 4th look set to take the final European spot, providing they are granted a UEFA license.

After winning the league title on Sunday, Lincoln may make changes for Wednesday’s final, especially given a number of players will be looking for one final chance at minutes before June’s internationals. Meanwhile, Glacis have had nine days rest since their last league game, and will likely field as strong a team as possible as they bid to upset the sizeable odds put up against them.

The Rock Cup Final is free to enter, with no COVID-19 restrictions in place, and gates open from 6pm ahead of the 7pm kick-off. However, if you are not able to make it to the Victoria Stadium this evening, the game will be streamed for free on the Gibraltar FA’s Youtube channel.

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Chipolina: “I am living my dream”

FG caught up with Lincoln & Gibraltar captain Roy Chipolina to talk about Imps’ triumphant season, Mick McElwee’s role in the team and more.

Roy reflected on Lincoln clinching their 25th title with a 3-0 win over Lions last Sunday, “A huge relief. After such a tough season to finish as champions makes me very proud to be a part of a family who gave everything to achieve our goal.

Lincoln finished a point above Europa and three in front of St Joseph’s – Roy gave us his view on his sides triumphant season, “This season has been unique. Due to the Covid pandemic, we had a long stop to the season during winter not to mention all the issues off the field with training allocations. Until Christmas, we knew we hadn’t been good enough and that so much more work needed to be put in. Credit to the players and staff, we all pulled together going through a hard 6 weeks of individual training which included some zoom sessions. All this to make sure when we returned to full training we wouldn’t need to work on our fitness too much. The lads came back fully focused and ready for what was going to be a hectic 3 months with 2 games a week, something which has never been experienced here in Gibraltar. For me having such a competitive squad is what pulled us over the line. Everyone wants to play and when you have a squad of players where it’s a matter of opinion who is our strongest 11 you would think players who were not getting the minutes that they wanted, would turn up and not train as hard or come with a negative vibe. It was the opposite. All the players stuck together with a great work ethic, knowing how important it was to keep a high intensity so that when your opportunity came you were ready to play your part or just kept those who were playing at their sharpest. Every single player in the squad did just that. It’s an honour to be a part of this family.”

Europa and St Joseph’s have been getting stronger year by year and teams like Mons Calpe and Lynx have thrown in some surprises this season and the defensive resilience of Lions has proved to be a problem for the big teams – we asked Roy about the importance of having a competitive league compared to previous ones, “This season has been a great advert for Gibraltar football. The league going down to the last game. 3 teams being able to be crowned champions and for one moment everyone reading the rule book, as all 3 teams could have finished the season on the same points. Throw in teams like Mons Lynx and Lions who made life hard to say the least for the top 3 and I think you have arguably the most competitive league we have had since becoming UEFA members. All the teams should be congratulated for that and from a neutral perspective let’s hope next season brings more of the same even though I’m not sure our owner will agree.

Mick McElwee secured his 11th title as Lincoln manager – we asked Roy about the impact Mick has had on the team, “Just over a year ago I posted a tweet regarding Mick and if you read through it I can only add that he has shown that he still has everything I state only now he has done it in a different era with a completely different group of players which only shows me he is unique. He is someone I look up to and a role model, not just for me but for many.

Roy’s tweet stated. “Mick McElwee was so much more to us and Lincoln than he humbly states. Yes, we had a group of very talented players but also very strong in character and personality. Dealing with us was very complicated, to say the least. He had a powerful impact on many of us, both on and as importantly off the pitch. He truly cared about us and knew how to get the best out of every player. His complete dedication and tireless effort rubbed onto the team. His standards and work ethic in training was always high and although we won most of the time, he demanded more, always setting new targets and goals. Stephen Head always assisting with the above played a very important but unsung role and was a key part of the jigsaw. Over the years what we built, money can’t buy. We were more than a team, we built a family and Mick was the father. That was the reason we were so successful.

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Lincoln win the Gibraltar National League

A 3-0 victory this evening vs Lions saw Lincoln secure the Gibraltar National League title on the final day of the season; the 25th time they have lifted the title

Photo (C) Rough & Ready

After Europa’s 3-0 win vs Mons Calpe yesterday, Lincoln knew only a win would do against Lions, and while Albert Ferri’s side defended resolutely as always, Lincoln broke their resistance in the 24th minute as Tjay De Barr picked up a loose ball in the box to finish past Valades and give his side the lead.

With Lincoln having recently drawn 1-1 with Lions, Mick McElwee’s side knew the importance of getting a second, and eight minutes later, Kike, who ended the season as the league’s top scorer with 24 goals, who latched on to a through ball and put Lincoln well on the way to the title.

From that point, the game became far more straightforward for Lincoln, who got a third goal from the penalty spot just after half time – Valades had got a hand to Carlos Martinez’ spot-kick but it spun back off his hands and into the net. They could have had more, but George Cabrera’s header was ruled out for offside, and as the final whistle neared, Lincoln’s fans began cheering on and counting down the minutes until the final whistle.

The win sees McElwee’s side finish on 48 points – one point above Europa in second, and three above St Joseph’s in third, who wrapped up their season earlier in the day with a 3-2 win over fifth place Lynx. Lions finish sixth, while Mons Calpe in fourth make up the rest of this season’s Championship Group table.

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Torrilla: “The team is fully focused on getting the win”

FG caught up with Lincoln midfielder Graeme Torrilla to talk about the draw to St Joseph’s, his time at the Imps and more.

Graeme reflected on Lincoln’s dramatic draw to St Joseph’s on Thursday, “I think the team was very good against St Josephs. It was obviously a big disappointment to come away with a draw considering we were two goals ahead & could have won the league but we knew it was going to be a very tough game and it’s all still very much in our hands.”

Following Europa’s win over Mons Calpe yesterday, three points for Lincoln today and they will clinch the title – we asked Graeme how the team feels going into their game against Lions, “The team is fully focused on getting the win in today’s game, as it would obviously gift us the league title which was our main aim all season. We know our opposition will be setting up well defensively as we learnt in our previous encounter with them and we’ll have to be at our best to find a way past them.

Graeme has been one of Lincoln’s most consistent performers this season, building a good partnership with Mustapha Yahaya and Kian Ronan. We asked him to sum up his time at the Imps so far, “I’ve very much enjoyed my time at Lincoln although it has been a bit of roller-coaster of a season for me personally as I started off getting a good amount of game time before suffering from a hamstring injury just before the international games. It then took me a while to recover and get back in to the starting line-up but I feel like I’m a good run of form now.

The 23-year old has impressed at the domestic and international scene, with players like Tjay De Barr and Dayle Coleing moving abroad – we asked Graeme if he would follow suit, “Playing abroad is something I’m very much open to as not only would it be good to try something out of my comfort zone but I also think the experience of playing in a different league & possibly higher level would help me improve as a player. Having said that, I still think I’m learning a lot where I currently am.