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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’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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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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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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Mons Calpe qualify for Europa Conference League

After last night’s Rock Cup Final result, Mons Calpe confirmed their place in Europe for the first time, subject to the club having been granted their UEFA License.

Photo (C) Rough & Ready

Mons Calpe watched on with interest as Lincoln beat Glacis 2-0 last night – had Glacis won they would have taken the final European spot, however, with Lincoln eventually winning the cup, the final European spot, as in previous seasons, went back to the league, meaning Mons, who finished in 4th, six points above Lynx, were the beneficiaries of Gibraltar’s first season where they claimed four European spots.

They will therefore join both Europa and St Joseph’s in the first qualifying round of the newly-formed Europa Conference League, subject to receiving their UEFA License. This has so far not been an issue for either Lincoln, Europa or St Joseph’s, but for Mons Calpe this may potentially prove to be a stumbling block.

The club are alleged to have unpaid debts to settle with former players and staff, with the teams then players staging a sit-down protest in 2019 – two players subsequently went to FIFA with their claims; now-Glacis player Miguel Londero, and Nicolas Trecco, who is currently playing in Argentina. Mons were ordered to pay Trecco, but in the case of Londero the case appeared to be recommended to back to the Gibraltar court of law.

If those two issues, and any other alleged issues have in fact been settled, then it would be expected that Mons receive their UEFA License and participate in Europe for the first time. However, should they fail the license, the last European spot is likely to then drop down to the next eligible league team (as is the case in other UEFA countries normally) – in this case that would be Lynx in 5th place who would benefit, presuming they too have a UEFA License.

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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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Europa release a statement after Supreme Court Judgement

After this morning’s Supreme Court Judgement, Europa FC have released a statement to the press this afternoon.

Photo (C) C Correa Photography

Europa had applied for an injunction against the GFA to stop the Rock Cup Final going ahead, after they were removed from the competition for being alleged to have breached competition rules in their semi-final penalty win against Lincoln (who are set to play Glacis in the final tonight). This morning though, the Supreme Court rejected Europa’s application for said injunction. As such, Europa have sent a press release this afternoon, which is as follows:

Today’s Supreme Court ruling points to the fact that Europa FC should be playing in today’s Rock Cup Final. It also vindicates the Club’s arguments that it did not breach competition rules and criticises the Gibraltar Football Association for its failings.

We had to apply for an injunction against the GFA because they had unjustly accused us of breaching Rules and Regulations when we beat Lincoln fairly and squarely on penalties in the semi-final of the Rock Cup and the GFA and its Appeals Committee subsequently awarded the match to Lincoln Red Imps FC so that they could play in today’s Rock Cup Final.

The GFA did not follow their own Rules and Regulations when we appealed against this terrible decision and Europa feels strongly that it did not get a fair hearing. That is why we wanted to go to an independent arbitration that we had a right to go to under the Disciplinary Regulations. The delay by GFA has not allowed us to go to arbitration in time before the match is played tonight. That would have allowed the rightful Club, Europa FC to play Glacis United FC in the final and not Lincoln Red Imps FC, who lost the semi-final.

In court today:

  1. The Judge decided not to grant an injunction only because of its effect on an innocent party – Glacis United FC who had told the Court they would lose key players and could not play after today. He made it clear that if it had not been for this issue, he would have granted the injunction.
     
  2. The Judge also expressed the view that if we went to arbitration, we would be right in our argument that we have not breached the rules.
     
  3. He has also said that the delay was the GFA’s fault and this has frustrated our attempt to be in the final as we have not been able to get to finish the arbitration hearing in time because of the GFA’s deficient processes.
     
  4. Because of this, he has ordered the GFA to pay Europa FC’s legal costs of the Injunction Application.

We now call upon the Gibraltar Football Association to do the right thing and accept their own GFA Appeals Committee got it wrong and allow us to play the Rock Cup Final tonight. The arguments on which the Chief Justice at the Supreme Court of Gibraltar recognised we are likely to succeed in an arbitration have been the Club’s position all along. That would only be fair and we have written to the GFA President to ask him to ensure this given the Court’s ruling.

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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.