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2022 looks set to be a pivotal year for the direction of Gibraltarian football

A fresh, and positive refresh is needed both on and off the pitch in 2022, if Gibraltar football is going to reignite the interest of its seemingly dwindling fanbase.

Photo © William Gracia

The World Cup Qualifiers wrapped up on Tuesday night as Gibraltar, starting with seven defenders and a defensive midfielder at home to 5th place Latvia, ended up on the wrong end of a 3-1 defeat, despite going 1-0 up inside the first 10 minutes of the match at the Victoria Stadium. In a game where there should have been no pressure on Gib, and the shackles should have been freed from the team, Julio Ribas instead persisted with the ultra-defensive approach which has yielded zero points and 43 goals conceded in 10 games, with just the four scored (two being from penalties). In fact, Walker’s goal vs Latvia was Gib’s first from open play in the Victoria Stadium for over two years – a stat that sums up the defensive, arguably dour approach Ribas has opted for. There were moments in the game where Gib showed glimmers of what they can do as a more attacking outfit, but they eventually reverted back to type.

More concerningly though, the crowds have got noticeably smaller for Gib’s games in 2021 – even in what was realistically Gib’s best chance of a result last night, there were noticeably empty pockets of seats across the Victoria Stadium. It isn’t even like the game wasn’t advertised – the GFA’s partnership with marketing firm The Bulb has been the visibility of international games increased across Gibraltar. However, fans are clearly turning off from the negative football on display, and this has also seemingly filtered down to Lincoln’s Conference League games, where despite their more positive approach to the game, they have struggled to get crowds in for their home games.

As a result of this, it is clear a number of changes are needed on and off the pitch before the Nations League starts in June 2022. The most obvious of these changes appears to be a change of manager for the national team. Julio Ribas has managed twice as many games as any other Gib manager in the UEFA era, and while he has had his moments in the Nations League, and deserves praise for those moments, a fresh approach is clearly needed for the next Nations League campaign. If he does leave, the Uruguayan will leave his replacement a core of young, talented players to build the national team around for the next 10 to 15 years, but a new manager needs to bring with them a more optimistic and positive approach to ensure we don’t especially waste the attacking talents in the squad. With the likes of De Barr, Graeme Torrilla and Louie Annesley (who has to be moved back to defence to get the most out of him), to name just three, there is a core from which to build the national team for the forseeable future.

It is worth noting too that the women’s game, by comparison to the men’s, seems to be going on a much more upward trajectory on the Rock. The growth of the domestic league to five teams is very welcomed, and performance by the national team on the pitch and on the court have to be applauded. The fact that just last weekend, three of Gibraltar’s women futsal players were on BT in the English FA Women’s Futsal Super Series is also a good sign of progress – they play Liechtenstein later this month and hopefully get the support they deserve – the crowd they got for the recent Futsal internationals was better than anything served up for men’s internationals in 2021.

Another thing that seems clear is that Technical Director Desi Curry needs to be given more of a control over ensuring this young generation of Gibraltarian’s get all the tools they need to succeed. Curry has been here for nearly 5 years now, but it feels that he hasn’t ever been allowed to fully implement his blueprint for Gibraltarian football. In fact, it is believed that the 61-year-old Northern Irishman is frustrated at the blocks that have seemingly been put in front of him – considering his previous experience as Technical Director of Northern Ireland, there is arguably no one more qualified on paper to do the job here than him.

A topic that perhaps not too many want to talk about, is what to do with the oldest members of the current national team. There still seems to be an over-reliance on Roy Chipolina, and to an extent, Lee Casciaro too (Tjay De Barr’s emergence has took that pressure off Casciaro though). Gibraltar needs to accept that a long-term future needs to built without the pair, and the Nations League offers that opportunity in 2022. By all means, keep the pair in the squad for their invaluable experience, and to call upon them as and when needed in matches, but it is probably time to trust the next generation, and build the next Chipolina’s and Casciaro’s for Gibraltar.

Chino has made the sensible move to retire from international duty after yesterday’s game vs Latvia (and Ribas’ decision not to give him minutes in his final game was a crying shame), and that paves the way for Jaylan Hankins, who some rate as Gibraltar’s most promising keeper, to step into the senior side, fighting alongside Dayle Coleing, Bradley Banda, and the more experience Jamie Robba for the three goalkeeping spots. Unsurprisingly, Gibraltar are not struggling in the goalkeeping department, and won’t do for years to come.

The relationship between a new national team manager, and Gibraltar’s club sides, needs to improve and be less one-sided in favour of the manager too. Under Ribas, the league has been heavily disrupted as his demands to have his national squad for a lengthy period before internationals means only three rounds of league fixtures have been played this season (had it not been for Lincoln’s European exploits, 99% of the national team would have come even into November’s internationals woefully short of match fitness). A greater balance needs to be struck between the needs of the national team and the league, in order to ensure we don’t see a repeat of this season where the league didn’t start until the middle of October.

Finally, there needs to be more communication between the GFA and the public, if they want people to start returning to matches and generally showing more interest in local football once again. Eight years after joining UEFA, the novelty of being a part of European football has clearly worn off for Gibraltarians – it isn’t simply enough to say that Gib are playing big or decent nations in order for fans to turn up in numbers. They now need a genuine reason to attend, and that has to start from the top. For Ivan Robba, even just regular written or video interviews, either internally on the GFA’s own platforms or on traditional media such as GBC or the Chronicle, explaining the work the GFA are doing on and off the pitch would be a start – give people a reason to be optimistic and interested in local football again.

Failure to freshen things up in 2022 will likely lead to Gibraltar stagnating further, struggling in the Nations League, and then most likely the Euro 2024 qualifiers as well. If this happens, in two years time we will be sat here writing the same article as today, however the reality is very few people in Gibraltar will either be reading it, or even paying attention to local football by that point. In a country where top class football is freely available both on TV and across the border, Gibraltar needs to fight tooth and nail to regain interest on the action at the Victoria Stadium.

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Haaland hat-trick helps Norway to victory

A smart finish from Reece Styche was unfortunately not enough to prevent an Erling Haaland-inspired Norway side from running out 5-1 winners in Oslo last night against Gibraltar.

Photo © Rough & Ready

Among the changes from Saturday’s defeat against Turkey were Kyle Goldwin coming in for Dayle Coleing, who was a surprising absentee from the 22-man matchday squad, while Styche came in for the suspended Tjay De Barr up top. There was also a start for Ethan Jolley, while Louie Annesley returned from suspension as well.

Norway went into this game level on points with the Netherlands, but with an eight goal worse goal difference, and from the first minute you could see they were trying to correct that. However, as well as Gibraltar’s defence, Stale Solbakken’s side had another issue in the end – Netherlands ran out comprehensive 6-1 winners against Turkey in a top of the table clash in Amsterdam.

Norway would, after just over 20 minutes of trying to break down Gib, then go and score three goals in 16 minutes. Like in March, Kristian Thorstvedt opened the scoring, before Haaland, who drew a blank in the Victoria Stadium in the two teams last meeting, grabbed a brace to seemingly put Norway on the road to a cricket score.

Gibraltar soon had other ideas though – Gibraltar’s pressing game led to Julian Valarino latching onto a loose Norwegian pass; Graeme Torrilla then won a 50-50 on the edge of the box which set up Styche, who showed great composure to dink the ball over Bournemouth keeper Orjan Nyland to reduce the deficit. VAR would come to the rescue before the break, overturning a Norway penalty, and the teams went in 3-1 at the half time whistle.

Alexander Sorloth had numerous chances throughout the game, but eventually got his goal to make it 4-1 on the 58th minute, and Norway would have hoped Gib would crumble. That would not be the case though, and it would take until the final moments of the game for Dortmund’s Haaland to get his hat-trick and add a 5th for Norway, who go second in the group but slipped slightly further away from the Netherlands, who Gib travel to face in Rotterdam in October.

The result officially ended any Gibraltar hopes of reaching the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and with Julio Ribas’ project aimed around that tournament (his contract is believed to end at the end of 2021 though), it will be interesting to see if either Ribas, or the GFA see this as an opportunity for a fresh start after November. For now though, there are four more qualifying games, including two home matches against Montenegro and Latvia where, if some of the defensive shackles are loosened, Gib could give the fans something to cheer with a positive result or performance. With Styche scoring his second in as many starts, and De Barr also showing promising form on the international stage, will those games be the time for the pair to finally start up top together?

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Gibraltar end triple-header away in Norway

Gibraltar wrap up their September international triple-header with a difficult away trip to Oslo to take on Norway tomorrow.

Photo © W Gracia Photos

After an improved performance at home to Turkey on Saturday, Gib flew out on Sunday morning to Norway to prepare for their sixth game of the qualifying campaign so far. Their hosts, who won 3-0 at the Victoria Stadium back in March, will be looking for a convincing win, especially as, depending on the result between Turkey and the Netherlands on the same night, they could find themselves top of Group G come the end of this international break.

Julio Ribas’ side were dealt a blow when striker Tjay De Barr picked up his second booking of the qualifying campaign so far, meaning he’ll serve a one-match ban in this game. They are helped by the return of Louie Annesley from suspension, while Reece Styche is expected to replace De Barr up top in what will no doubt be a challenging evening for the Hednesford attacker.

Norway have no suspended players of their own to contend with, although with the likes of Martin Odegaard and Mohamed Elyounoussi some of those just one yellow from missing a crucial away tie against Turkey next month, manager Stale Solbakken may make a couple of changes to his team. Don’t expect wholesale changes though – goal difference is the first separator of teams on level points and with Norway eight goals behind Netherlands on goal difference, and five behind Turkey, this will be a massive chance to potentially claw back that deficit, should the likes of Erling Haaland find the form that deserted him in the Victoria Stadium back in March.

For Gib, there may have to be other changes to the team owing to the challenging triple-header which has already seen them make a return trip to Latvia as well as their flight to Oslo, and two challenging matches in the last week. However, this will offer them the chance to end this international break on a positive note if the performance is right, and give them some belief ahead of the two final international breaks of 2021, where they have two reasonable home games against Montenegro and Latvia to try and get points from.

Betting*:

Understandably the hosts come into this game as 1/50 favourites to take all three points, while Gib are 350/1 for the victory and 35/1 for the draw. Goals will no doubt be on Norway’s mind given the goal difference issue they have, and the goal line currently sits at Over/Under 4.5 – a total they haven’t reached in a match since a 5-1 drubbing of Northern Ireland exactly a year ago tomorrow.

Despite not scoring at the Victoria Stadium in March, Erling Haaland, one of Europe’s most lethal strikers, is just 29/20 to score first, and 1/8 to score in 90 minutes. Gib came close to scoring vs Turkey last time out, hitting the post early in the second half, and have scored in three of their last five competitive away matches, so Both Teams To Score is a potentially tempting 18/5.

* All prices correct as of 10:41 CEST 6th September 2021, and prices may fluctuate. Please gamble responsibly. 18+ www.begambleaware.org

Match Officials:

Nikolas Neokleous is the referee for tomorrow’s game, as part of an all-Cypriot team at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo. While this will be his first competitive senior international as a referee, he has been fourth official for two Gibraltar U17 games back in 2016, from which four of that team are in the current senior national team (Ethan Britto, Louie Annesley, Julian Valarino & Kian Ronan).

Predicted Lineups:

Norway – Hansen; Ryerson, Ajer, Gabrielsen, Meling; Berg, Daehli, Normann; King; Sorloth, Haaland

Gibraltar – Coleing; Sergeant, Wiseman, R. Chipolina, Annesley, Pons; Valarino, Torrilla, Badr, Hernandez; Styche

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Subs the key as Turkey battle to beat Gib

Turkey manager Senol Gunes had to turn to his bench in order to eventually break down Gibraltar in their 3-0 victory at the Victoria Stadium last night.

Photo (C) Rough & Ready

In front of a not full ground (the £25 price tag, with no concessions for juniors or seniors may have put off families especially), Gibraltar made two changes from the defeat against Latvia, with Aymen Mouelhi and Anthony Hernandez coming in for Jamie Bosio and the suspended Louie Annesley. Turkey opted for a 4-4-2, but with Burak Yilmaz suspended, they went with the combination of Feyenoord’s Orkun Kokcu and Galatasaray striker Muhammed Akturkoglu up top.

Turkey appeared to be getting off to the perfect start when they won a penalty in the opening minute of the game, but Gib keeper Dayle Coleing had other ideas, diving low to his right to stop Enes Unal’s spot-kick and keeping the scores goalless. Turkey were having the more of the chances in the first half, but could find no way past Gib, who were not helped by Ethan Britto coming off after half an hour. Tjay De Barr, who threatened all game, picked up a yellow in the first half and will now miss Tuesday’s trip to Norway as a result of suspension.

Into the second half, and Gunes made a triple-sub at the break, bringing on Kenan Karaman, Halil Dervisoglu and Hakan Calhanoglu, and all three would go on to make big impacts, each getting on the scoresheet. They were somewhat fortunate not to go behind though, as De Barr saw an effort from outside the box tipped onto the post by Ugurcan Cakir early in the half – that would be as close as Gib got to taking the lead though, as Calhanoglu set up Dervisoglu to open the scoring for the visitors.

10 minutes later, and Calhanoglu himself would get on the scoresheet with an effort from outside the box, but Gib came close to pulling one back as Roy Chipolina saw his header from a corner saved by Cakir. Turkey would wrap up all three points in the 82nd minute though, as the third of the subs, Karaman, got himself a goal to ensure Turkey remained top of the group.

There were definitely improvements in Gibraltar’s performance from the defeat against Latvia, even if Julio Ribas’ failure to use all five of his subs to keep the starting players fresher ahead of the trip to Norway next week was of some concern. Gib managed to fashion more chances than in any of their previous qualifiers and De Barr, who gave Leicester defender Caglar Soyuncu issues during the match, was unlucky not to make it five goals in as many games for clubs (Lincoln and Wycombe) and country. The challenge now is to keep up that attitude to the game in future matches – with Montenegro and Latvia to visit the Victoria Stadium later this year, there are chances for Gib to pick up points if they are brave enough.

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Gibraltar to take on Turkey at Victoria Stadium

Gibraltar face a tough World Cup Qualifier tomorrow as group leaders Turkey visit the Victoria Stadium.

Photo © C Correa Photography

After Wednesday’s 3-1 defeat against Latvia, Gibraltar must now prepare to host a side who have picked up eight points from their first four games in the group and sit above both the Netherlands and Norway in the race to reach Qatar 2022.

Gib’s task was made harder by the fact Blackburn defender Louie Annesley, who fills in as a makeshift central midfielder in the national team, will be serving a one-match suspension after accumulating two yellow cards in the qualifiers so far – a whole host of other Gib players would miss Tuesday’s trip to Norway should they get booked tomorrow night.

After impressive victories vs the Netherlands and Norway, Turkey were bought back down to earth somewhat, both by their disappointing Euro 2020 tournament showing, and draws against Latvia and Montenegro respectively in this qualifying group. They remain top of Group G and know a win against Gib would ensure they stay there at the halfway stage of the qualifying group.

For Gibraltar, they will be desperately hoping to improve on some of the worrying stats that have come up during this qualifying campaign – they are averaging the least possession of all 55 nations, at an average of 23.7%, while they have attempted the joint-fewest shots (seven in four games) and have failed to register a shot on target from open play (both shots on target were from penalties). They also have the joint-fourth worst disciplinary record (albeit opponents Turkey are the worst with 13 yellow cards in four games), and Gib’s pass completion rate is the lowest among all 55 nations at just 57.9% (all stats courtesy of Whoscored and UEFA.com).

Betting*:

Unsurprisingly, Turkey come into this game as heavy favourites, with a best price of 1/41 available. For Gibraltar, they are as big as 450/1 to take all three points, while the draw is best price 40/1. Both Teams To Score is currently 18/5, and the Over/Under line is set at 4.5, with both Over and Under 4.5 goals best price EVS depending who you bet with.

In the goalscorer betting, with striker Burak Yilmaz suspended, Getafe’s Enes Unal is favourite to score the first goal at 4/1, while free-kick speciality Hakan Calhanoglu is 9/2 if he starts. For Gib, Tjay De Barr is 14/1 to score anytime and could be on penalty duty like he was in Riga.

* All prices correct as of 10:59 CEST 3rd September 2021, and prices may fluctuate. Please gamble responsibly. 18+ www.begambleaware.org

Match Officials:

Tomorrow’s match officials hail from Estonia, with 40-year-old Kristo Tohver the man in the middle. He has been a FIFA-listed official since 2010, and this will be his first team refereeing a Gibraltarian team.

Predicted Lineups:

Gibraltar – Coleing; Sergeant, Mouelhi, Wiseman, Bosio, Olivero; Valarino, Badr, Barnett, Pons; De Barr

Turkey – Bayindir; Ayhan, Kabak, Demiral, R. Yilmaz; Yazici, Yokuslu, Ucan; Yaziki, Unal, Karaman

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Latvia run out deserved winners vs Gibraltar

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.

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Gibraltar to get September triple-header underway away at Latvia

Gibraltar get their latest international triple-header underway tomorrow when they take on Latvia at the Daugava Stadium in Riga.

Photo © Rough & Ready

Julio Ribas’ side travelled to Latvia on the weekend, with Wednesday’s match the first of a tough triple-header that also includes a home tie against Turkey on Saturday, followed by a trip to Norway the following Tuesday. Notable absentees from the squad for tomorrow were Liam Walker and Lee Casciaro, both of whom featured on Thursday in Lincoln’s win over Riga FC, but the pair may join the squad later in this international break, with their game time potentially being managed carefully after a long summer at club level.

One player that joined the team though was Tjay De Barr, with the Wycombe attacker, who came off the bench in their league defeat to Sunderland on Saturday afternoon, making the trip to Latvia separate from the rest of the team, to ensure he could keep his club commitments. There was also a first ever call up for Lions’ youngster Richard Felipes, while Jayce Olivero returns to the squad after injury, and Joseph Chipolina makes the squad for the first time since a long-term injury he picked up in December 2019.

With a 27-man squad being taken to Riga, and only 23 being able to be named in the matchday squad, Ribas has given himself flexibility in who he chooses for his squad, including in the goalkeeping department, where Bradley Banda, Dayle Coleing, Kyle Goldwin and Jamie Robba will have to compete for the three available goalkeeping spots, as well as the starting position in goal.

For the hosts, Latvia manager Dainis Kazakevics has also named a 27-man squad for their three internationals this month, including five players from the Riga squad who took on Lincoln in the UEFA Europa Confererence League Playoffs this month. The majority of their squad are based in Latvia, but defender Raivis Jurkovskis did join Irish side Dundalk in January of this year, while striker Vladislavs Gutkovskis grabbed 12 goals in 35 games for Polish side Rakow and also scored the winner in their Conference League 3rd qualifying tie against Rubin Kazan.

Like Gib, Latvia were in League D of the Nations League last time out, but they finished third behind the Faroe Islands and Malta, picking up one win, four draws and a defeat in the process. They have, however, picked up an impressive 3-3 draw away at Turkey in this qualifying group, and therefore sit one point and one position above Gibraltar in the qualifying group.

One thing to note about this game is potential suspensions, with Gibraltar having eight players just one yellow away from missing Saturday’s tie with Turkey – they are Louie Annesley, Erin Barnett, Tjay De Barr, Kyle Goldwin, Aymen Mouelhi, Alain Pons, Kian Ronan and Reece Styche.

Betting*:

The hosts come into this one as odds on favourites, with the best price you can get on Latvia currently 2/7 at the time of writing. The last time the two sides met, Gib won 1-0 in a friendly at the Victoria Stadium, and a repeat of that scoreline is best price 33/1. Gibraltar to win the match outright is a best price of 15/1, while Both Teams To Score is 39/20.

In the goalscorer market, the aforementioned Gutkovskis is 13/10 to score in 90 minutes for the hosts, while for Gib, Reece Styche, who scored vs Montenegro and may be on penalty duty if Joseph Chipolina doesn’t start, is 5/1 anytime scorer. Tjay De Barr is 11/2 to repeat his goalscoring heroics from Wycombe’s EFL Cup game vs Stevenage last week, while if you’re looking for an aerial threat who has shown he can score big goals, Roy Chipolina is a tempting 50/1 to add to his two goals at international level.

* All prices correct as of 12:13 CEST 31st August 2021, and prices may fluctuate. Please gamble responsibly. 18+ www.begambleaware.org

Match Officials:

The appointed match officials for the game are from Czechia, with referee Pavel Orel a 32-year-old who has officiated in the Europa Conference League this season – he took charge of Lincoln Red Imps’s 1-1 draw with AEK Larnaca in Faro in the 2017/18 Europa League Qualifying, while he even was appointed referee for three matches in the Chinese Super League back in November 2018.

Predicted Lineups:

Latvia – Steinbors; Fjodorovs, Cernomordijs, Oss, Jurkovskis; Tobers, Emsis; Jaunzems, Ikaunieks, Ciganiks; Gutkovskis

Gibraltar – Coleing; Sergeant, Wiseman, R. Chipolina, Olivero; Annesley; Valarino, Torrilla, Ronan, Pons; De Barr

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Is the Nations League the future of Euros qualification?

With talk of the Euros being expanded to 32 teams by the 2028 tournament, could the Nations League prove to be a replacement for the current, tired qualifying format?

Photo Black and Burst

With the current, 24-team tournament set to finish tonight, there has been criticism over the current format, where only eight teams are knocked out from the group stage. The expansion from 16 to 24 teams for Euro 2016 has not been without issues, and with the chances of reducing back to 16 teams practically zero, an increase to a 32 team tournament, in the same format as the current World Cup, seems most likely. However, this would need to come with a drastic change to the qualifying process.

As it stands, a 32-team tournament with the current qualifying process would become increasingly pointless for all involved, however the success of the Nations League format could hint towards the future of qualifying – and there is a potential format for qualifying that fits into the current 16-16-16-7 format, while still giving all 55 nations a chance of qualifying for the showpiece event.

League A:

12 automatic tournament qualifying spots (1st to 3rd each group)

4 playoff spots (4th place each group)

League B:

8 automatic tournament qualifying spots (1st and 2nd each group)

6 playoff spots (3rd place each group and two best 4th place teams)

League C:

4 automatic tournament qualifying spots (1st place each group)

4 playoff spots (2nd place each group)

League D:

0 automatic tournament qualifying spots

2 playoff spots (1st place each group)

Playoffs:

Four League A team and four 3rd place League B teams are seeded and gain home advantage in a one-legged playoff against other eight teams – eight winners go to final tournament to complete 32 team tournament. Depending on which country hosts the tournament, they take one automatic spot from their league presuming they aren’t in League D. If they are in League D, then League D could become one group of 7, with the host nation guaranteed a playoff spot alongside one other League D side.

Under this proposed format, the elite nations will have a reduction in what they see to be ‘pointless’ games against sides which they expect to win comfortably, meanwhile as you go down the leagues, it gives nations more of a hope of making the final tournament – giving League D two playoff spots also allows UEFA to continue to sell the idea that all 55 nations could feasibly make the final tournament, no matter how hard it would be. It would also reduce competitive matches from 10 to six in a qualifying cycle, which for players would no doubt be appreciated as the demands of football continue to increase.

For Gibraltar, the addition of more games against sides of a similar quality would certainly be welcomed, as would an increased chance of potentially making the playoffs for major tournaments. The World Cup Qualifying would still give fans the chance to see Gib play the elite nations in the world (eg Netherlands in the current qualifying for Qatar 2022), but it would also give both fans and players alike the opportunity for more moments of celebration that the Nations League has provided since its formation.

The only way seems to be up in terms of tournament sizes, but combined with a more sensible approach to qualifying, a 32-team tournament has the potential to improve the qualification process for all involved.

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Gibraltar end season with goalless draw at Andorra

A drab, uninspiring goalless draw between Andorra and Gibraltar last night saw Julio Ribas’ start with seven defenders in the friendly match.

After Friday’s defeat against Slovenia, Ribas surprised everyone by naming an unchanged side for the second friendly international, choosing not to use Gibraltar’s final non-competitive match of 2021 to experiment with different players or formations ahead of September’s triple-header of qualifiers.

While the final score was an improvement on Friday’s 6-0 reversal against Slovenia, the underlying statistics in last night’s match at the Estadi Nacional did not make for particularly exciting reading. Gibraltar mustered only one shot on target all night and managed only 32% possession against a team considered to be at a similar level to them.

For their part, Andorra were not much better and offered up little as well – on a night where fellow micro-nation Faroe Islands beat Liechtenstein 5-1, Andorra and Gibraltar showcased the more cautious side of the smaller section of European football.

Also of surprise was the fact that Ribas only used three of his available six subs in the friendly, with seven of the 24 man squad who flew out to Slovenia and Andorra not given a single minute of action, including Jack Sergeant who failed to make the bench in either international.

Arguably the only positives from the match were Gibraltar ending a four-game losing run, with Dayle Coleing adding a clean sheet after a busy last few internationals, while captain Roy Chipolina picked up his 50th cap in the UEFA era, joining Liam Walker in being the only two Gibraltarians to do so since UEFA. Chipolina of course has been a stalwart of the national team for the last 20 years, and was part of the team which won gold in Rhodes in the 2007 Island Games.

Gibraltar’s next matches are in September, where a home match against Turkey is sandwiched in the middle of away internationals at Latvia and Norway.

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Gibraltar to play away friendly double-header in June

The Gibraltar National Team will take on Slovenia and Andorra in away friendlies in June.

Photo (C) William Gracia

After the March international triple-header, Julio Ribas’ side don’t have any competitive internationals until September, but with a window for friendlies available in June just before the rescheduled Euro’s, the opportunity to get more matches under the national teams belt has come up, and Gib will be taking on teams ranked 63rd and 158th in the world respectively.

Slovenia, who were promoted from League C of the Nations League last time out, so won’t be a potential opponent when Gib are drawn into that league, impressively beat Croatia in the last international break before defeats away at Russia and Cyprus. In Atletico’s Jan Oblak, they have arguably the best goalkeeper in world football, while Josip Ilicic of Atalanta is a known talent who has been part of one of the most exciting attacking teams in Europe in the last couple of seasons.

As for Andorra, this will be the first meeting in football between two of UEFA’s smallest populated nations – they finished bottom of their Nations League D group last time out, which Faroe Islands qualified from, but are an improving nation nonetheless and will provide a good challenge for the national team. Like Gib, they have a number of older, experienced internationals, but the most recognisable of them all, Ildefons Lima, will not likely be involved in the national team after he was exiled from the national team when he questioned the return of football in the principality without any Covid-19 testing measures in place. His 128 caps and 11 goals from centre-back made him Andorra’s leading appearance maker and goalscorer, and fans of Lincoln will recognise him after he scored for Santa Coloma in Lincoln’s 2-1 victory in Andorra – the first time a Gibraltarian side won a Champions League qualifying tie.

The Andorra game will take place at the Estadi Nacional on 7th June, while the friendly vs Slovenia, on 4th June, has no confirmed venue as of yet – kick-off times for both matches will be announced in due course.