European Qualifiers: A Review

Gibraltar started their historic first qualifying campaign against Poland, and no one really knew what to expect as the national team embarked into the unknown. Going into half time only 1-0 down would have surprised many, but after 60 minutes the score was 5-0, and the flurry of goals after the break would become all too familiar a sight at the qualification wore on, as would the 7-0 full time score.

A month later, and Gibraltar had their first double-header, which bought with it the task of a largely semi-professional team playing two games in four days. The first game was probably the worst performance the national team put in all tournament, as they lost 7-0 in Dublin, with the own goal from Jordan Perez summing up the performance of a team who had conceded all seven goals before then manager Allen Bula chose to take off Perez for Jamie Robba. It would take the St Joseph’s keeper until June to regain his place in the national squad.

That game was followed up by a 3-0 home defeat against Georgia, where Gib had a goal disallowed in front of 281 spectators, by far the lowest attendance the national team played in front of. Despite home games being played in Faro, a loyal following of Gibraltar supporters backed the team through thick and thin across Europe.

November saw a trip to Nuremberg, and a match against the World Champions. A ‘mismatch’ was the hot buzzword on most neutrals lips before the game, and talk of double figures and records tumbling were popular talking points. Instead, Germany only managed to win 4-0, including an own goal from Yogen Santos, and Liam Walker almost scored a wonder goal past Manuel Neuer, who spared the blushes of his manager Joachim Low.

We’d have to wait until March for Gibraltar’s next fixture, and it would prove to be an historic occasion at Hampden Park, as Lee Casciaro’s equaliser in the 6-1 defeat was Gibraltar’s first ever competitive goal. The two penalties conceded would become a worrying theme in the remaining games though, and is somewhere that Gibraltar can hopefully improve on in the coming years.

After a friendly defeat against Croatia, where Jordan Perez regained his spot in the national team, Germany once again were Gibraltar’s opponents. Perez impressed many with his first half performance, including the save of a Bastian Schweinsteiger penalty, but despite once again going in 1-0 down at half time, the team tired in the second half and the final score was 7-0 in favour of the World Champions, a result which perhaps flattered them slightly.

The second-to-last international break saw another double-header for Gib, as they hosted Ireland, before a trip to Poland. Against the Irish, they were vastly more resolute than in the away fixture, and Martin O’Neill’s side only came away from Faro with a 4-0 victory. Poland, spearheaded by Robert Lewandowski, who had already scored four vs Gib in Faro and was about to go on a superb scoring spree, scored twice as Poland went 8-0 up with 15 minutes to go. Gibraltar’s attacking play was rewarded with a second, and final goal in qualifying, when Bristol Rovers’ Jake Gosling fired past Swansea keeper Lukasz Fabianski.

Earlier this month, Gibraltar’s final two games took place. The away game in Georgia was wrongly seen by some as a chance for Gibraltar to pick up points; the Georgians had beaten Scotland in their last home game and would go on after this to almost draw in Germany. An uninspiring 4-0 loss, where the Georgian fans even booed their own team for their lacklustre performance at times, left many unfairly doubting new manager Jeff Wood, before the former Brighton and Lions manager had his chance to put his footprint on the squad.

10,000 Scottish fans travelled to Faro in anticipation of making the top three in Group D. However, Lewandowski’s last-gasp equaliser at Hampden meant this game was a dead-rubber, and in a rainy Faro, Gibraltar ended their maiden qualifying campaign with a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Gordon Strachan’s side.

With no competitive fixtures for three years now, the game against Scotland could prove the final competitive outing for a number of Gib players, such as Lee Casciaro and Roy Chipolina, both stalwarts of the national side for many years. For the time being though, Gibraltar must build to the future if they wish to improve on their record this time out.


Georgia 4-0 Gibraltar – Match Report

Goals from Tornike Okriashvili, Valeri Kazaishvili & a brace from Mate Vatsadze secured a comfortable victory for Georgia in Tbilisi. 

The first half started with Georgia dominating possession, Jordan Perez was called into an early save keeping out a shot from Valeri Kazaishvili. Minutes later some great build-up play from Gibraltar saw Anthony Bardon have his shot, Gibraltar players appealed for handball but the referee said play on.

Fifteen minutes in and Georgia nearly took the lead, a cross was whipped in and met by the head of Valeri Kazaishvili who brought out a terrific save from Jordan Perez. Three minutes later Perez made another great save to keep out a shot from Mate Vatsadze. 

Thirty minutes in and Georgia took the lead, Gibraltar defender Ryan Casciaro was dragged out of position, striker Mate Vatsadze latched onto a through ball and calmly slotted it past an onrushing Jordan Perez. Five minutes later a cross from Otar Kakabadze was blocked by the hand of Anthony Bardon in the box, referee pointed straight to the spot. Tornike Okriashvili stepped up and slotted it past Jordan Perez.

With five minutes remaining Gibraltar have their first big chance, Jake Gosling played a great pass to Liam Walker in the middle, the midfielder controlled and unleashed a fiercely struck shot which was saved by Nukri Revishvili. Just before the halftime whistle blew, a cross was whipped in and met by the head of Mate Vatsadze who rose above the Gibraltar defenders and guided his header past Jordan Perez. 

The second half started with Gibraltar making a substitution with George Cabrera being replaced by Brian Perez. Gibraltar’s second half display was a lot better than the first, they nearly got themselves a goal when Joseph Chipolina got into some space and tried his luck from range, his shot took a deflection and looked to be rolling in but Nukri Revishvili was able to save it.

Just after the hour mark Georgia nearly got their fourth, a cross was whipped in and met by Mate Vatsadze who headed his effort onto the crossbar. Jordan Perez made a great double save minutes later keeping out Mate Vatsadze’s efforts of getting his hattrick. Georgia managed to make it 4-0 with three minutes remaining, Valeri Kazaishvili skipped past two players with ease and smashed his long range effort through the legs of Roy Chipolina and past Jordan Perez.

Five minutes later the referee blew for full-time and Georgia secured all three points.



Jeff Wood names 23-man Gibraltar squad

Gibraltar manager Jeff Wood named his final 23-man squad for the games against Poland and Scotland today, with some of Wood’s decisions causing strong debate with the local football community.

Goalkeepers stay the same with Perez, Robba & Neale keeping their place. With UEFA requiring three keepers are registered in a squad, only injury would have seen any of the three miss out on this squad, and it seems Wood is settled on this particular trio for the time being.

The only change in defence sees Jack Sergeant miss out, after not fully recovering from an injury he picked up against Ireland. Sergeant played for Manchester in the 2-2 draw against Lynx last Friday, but failed to make the cut for this squad, so the 20-year-old will not be able to add to his nine caps for the national team.

The midfield is where Wood’s decisions have caused the most debate and discussion., Jeremy Lopez yesterday pulled out of the squad after stating “he didn’t deserve the call-up”. Aaron Payas pulled out again due to personal reasons, which meant Manchester 62 veteran Daniel Duarte was called up to the national team for the first time since March. Jesse Victory was another player who makes up the unlucky four to be cut from the squad.

A lot of hype was placed around Lions’ Evan Green when he was announced in the 27-man squad, and many believed that Green deserved a place in the final squad. Despite this, he was the sole attacker not to make the team, with the likes of Mikey Yome and Jamie Coombes making the cut.  George Cabrera stays in the squad despite a long injury layout, while the likes of Lee Casciaro, Kyle Casciaro and JP Duarte made the team as expected.

With players like Adam Priestley and Scott Wiseman missing the squad due to fitness concerns, and a host of other players simply not making the cut, the current crop of players will have to ensure they perform to the best of their abilities if they want to remain in the national team for future games.

As seems to be the case nowadays, the Gibraltar selection process has surprised many people, who will no doubt question the inclusion of players who have had less than ideal amounts of game time in recent months.  Jeff Wood will no doubt be happy with his selections, and will be able to give detailed explanations for every player he’s picked, but at the same time today’s squad will not dispel the theories of a growing number of people that the national team is picked on reputation over form.