The first blog on football in Gibraltar, up since March 2010
As we leave 2014 behind – an exciting year for sure – it would only be right to look at what is coming up in the next 12 months.
The first international involvement for Gib sees the futsal team travel to Bulgaria to face the hosts, Greece and Denmark in Futsal Euro qualifiers. Two years since Gibraltar’s first involvement in any UEFA competition, it is hoped that the futsal team will carry on the progress that the small-sided game has achieved on the Rock, both domestically and internationally.
March will see Gibraltar play their fifth Senior qualifying match, away at Scotland. The match at Hampden Park will be the hosts first since renovations were implemented at the ground ahead of the Commonwealth Games, and Gibraltar will be hoping to continue the progress that has seen them only allow four goals past the World Champions. For sure, a repeat of the 7-0 loss vs Ireland, which made for hard viewing at times, should not be repeated now the team, both players and staff, are no longer naive to the monumental task ahead of them in the form of five professional teams with years of international experience.
As spring turns to summer, the domestic league reaches its climax. With Lincoln two points ahead of nearest rivals College Europa, you’d fancy the Red Imps to once again retain their title, despite the gap between them and the other top teams in the league finally getting closer. The UEFA money, criticised by some as it has led to noticeably less locals playing in the league, has at least turned the league into more of a real contest instead of a Sunday stroll for Lincoln.
The Rock Cup could potentially decide who takes Gibraltar’s Europa League spot for next season too, providing Lincoln don’t win that of course. After last year’s farce with both College and Manchester 62 thinking they had qualified, the rules should be set in stone now, and no last minute alterations are expected.
The Second Division will also wrap up, with four teams currently believing they can finish in a top two spot, and have their chance to get a slice of the top division pie. Top of the pile are Gibraltar United, back for this season with a ‘Bilbao’ approach to their team, but with fellow ‘newbies’ Gibraltar Scorpions, Angels FC and Europa Point hot on their heels, the second tier is by no means decides. Who knows, if the GFA decide to expand the Premier to 10 teams, we might see a couple of these teams in the Premier next year.
June sees the World Champions come to Faro for the return qualifier. With it being the first “home” match since October, hopefully friendlies are arranged where possible before the match. This leads onto the issue of FIFA membership. Sepp Blatter may have said no to the GFA joining the world football body, but another trip to CAS might change that. However, provisional membership at a minimum is needed before June if Gib want to be in the World Cup qualifying draw, and not be exiled from competitive football from November 2015 until after Russia 2018.
July sees two teams take on the Champions League and Europa League qualifiers. With Gibraltar hot on the heels of San Marino in the coefficients, a good result or two could ensure two Europa League spots are up for grabs in the 2016/17 season.
As for the second half of the year, there’s little different to the last six months. The under 17’s and under 19’s once again go to battle in qualifiers,with the U19’s being put in the same group as France and the Netherlands. A new season starts once again, the final Senior qualifiers are played out, and with Allen Bula’s contract expiring after those qualifiers, it remains to be seen whether the GFA choose to renew his deal.
On a side note, there are rumours of Gibraltar sending a team to the Island Games in Jersey in the summer. Most likely it will be a women’s team, who need the game time, but it is something to keep an eye out for.
Regardless of what happens, 2015 promises to be another busy year for the football scene in Gibraltar.
Gibraltar are one of the teams invited to Malta for their fourth ‘International Futsal Tournament’, held at the Corradino Sports Pavilion in Paola, Malta.
Gibraltar, Malta and Serbia will contest the three day competition as preparation for the upcoming 2016 UEFA Futsal EURO qualifiers.
The chance to face Serbia, a top 20 FIFA Futsal nation will be a big test for Gibraltar, who are looking to at least match the three points they picked up in Nice back in 2013 when they travel to Bulgaria to face the hosts, Greece and Denmark.
Malta have played Gibraltar twice before, and both nations hold a victory over each other in those friendlies.
The fixtures (all kick off 18:30 Maltese time)
Serbia – Gibraltar 30/11/14
Malta – Gibraltar 1/12/14
College Europa have appointed former Bosnian international midfielder Bruno Akrapovic as their new manager.
Akrapovic, who spent almost all of his career in the top two German divisions, is a surprise replacement for Jose Requena, who signed off his time at the Dolphins with the 9-0 demolition of Britannia. He earned 18 caps for the Bosnian national team, and the midfielder managed to score once in those matches
Further to this, a report on 5point4 suggests that Thomas Kastler, a German who set up his own football academy in Tenerife a few years ago, and who himself is a former German Third Division footballer, will take up the role of Sporting Director.
Akrapovic and Kastler look set to bring in their own staff, and with further upheaval on the cards at College, it remains to be see how this will impact on their challenge for domestic honours.
Allen Bula has no fresh injury concerns ahead of tomorrow’s away match against the Republic of Ireland.
It looks like Bula has a full compliment of players at his disposal, as no news on injuries has been reported by either the GFA or local press. Hopefully this is the case come tomorrow.
Kyle Casciaro is likely to start up top, while it remains to be seen if Bula sticks with the 4-1-4-1 or switches to something different for an away match in front of potentially 50,000 people.
As for Ireland, Martin O’Neill has had a few injury issues. With Seamus Coleman, Shay Given and James McCarthy all withdrawing from injury last week, his injury woes have been added to with the news Richard Keogh is unavailable tomorrow.
However, such is the strength of the Irish national player pool that they have been able to replace said players adequately, and will still be the stronger of the two teams tomorrow.
LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane is expected to start, and will be looking to add to an already impressive international goalscoring record. Premier League involvement will come from the likes of Aiden McGeady, John O’Shea and Darron Gibson, to name but a few plying their trade in England’s top division.
Today’s 2016 Futsal Euro preliminary draw saw Gibraltar drawn in Group A, alongside hosts Bulgaria, Greece and Denmark.
Whilst Gibraltar are unranked due to not having played the minimum amount of games yet, their opponents are ranked 52nd (Greece), 63rd (Denmark) and 81st (Bulgaria) in the world rankings.
After securing 3rd place last time out in France, Gibraltar have been handed a group that on paper looks tougher than two years ago. However, the national team may look at what Gibraltar Scorpions did in Bosnia last month as an idea of what teams from Gibraltar can do in the indoor game. No doubt new manager Peter Moreno will be looking to at least match the three points from 2012.
The preliminary rounds will be contested between the 13th – 18th January 2015.
The Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) today released a statement confirming that they are preparing a case for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), after FIFA President Sepp Blatter declared that Gibraltar could not become a new member of world football’s governing body.
At its Executive Meeting this week, FIFA decided that Gibraltar could not join, due to not being an independent country. This is despite a number of national FA’s being a part of the organisation despite not being independent countries themselves.
As expected, the GFA will now take their case to the CAS, with the hope that the result goes the same way their UEFA membership eventually did in 2013.
The GFA did say: “Unfortunately this is a decision that, at this stage, the Gibraltar FA expected” so a case to be taken to CAS should hopefully be ready in the not too distant future. With the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw being held in St Petersburg on 25th July 2015, everyone in Gibraltar will no doubt hope to see their national team included in the draw.
Earlier today, a story appeared on the Football League website about Oldham manager Lee Johnson claiming he was approached by an agent to represent Gibraltar against Poland in the qualifier.
The GFA since came out to deny the use of any agent to approach potential players, and Gibraltar Assistant Manager David Wilson has kindly got in contact to help clarify the situation further.
Wilson said: “At no time has the player/manager in question been considered by our technical team, and especially no one representing the national team or it’s association has been given permission to speak to a player other than myself or the gaffer (Allen Bula). We certainly would not be stupid enough to not easily research that a player was not playing football.”
He went on to say: “This has been a fraudulent approach by a fraud who 100% did not have our national teams interests at heart? Only personal gain!”
The story itself, while on the whole a bit bizarre, has bought to light the fact that there are agents out there claiming to represent the GFA, who are falsely offering players the chance to represent the national team. As well as this, there will also be agents from abroad who may approach Gibraltar players, especially the younger ones, offering them opportunities at professional sides in Europe or beyond. Not all of these agents are legitimate, and the fraudulent ones could easily leave a player and his family out of pocket.
I’m sure this is an issue that the clubs will make their players fully aware of, and stories such as the one today only help create awareness on the issue.
The GFA have come out today to state that they do not use agents from either Gibraltar or abroad to approach players who are eligible to represent Gibraltar, after quotes from Oldham manager Lee Johnson suggested that an agent asked him to play for the national team against Poland.
In an article on the official Football League website, Johnson, 33, was quoted as saying that an agent approached him with an offer to come out of retirement and represent Gibraltar in the qualifier versus Poland earlier this month. Johnson turned down the approach from said agent.
However, an official GFA statement this afternoon states that they do not use agents to approach players to potentially represent Gibraltar. This would suggest that the agent who approached Johnson was dodgy, and that the Oldham manager perhaps saved himself the hassle, and some embarrassment, by not agreeing to said agents request.
Been meaning to do this for a while, but have only got around to doing this now, so let’s look at the game from two weeks ago, where Gibraltar made their competitive debut in a 7-0 loss to Poland.
Not the ideal start for Bula’s team, and unfortunately a result that gave fuel to those who believe small nations don’t belong in the main qualifiers, and should ‘earn’ their right to play ‘bigger’ countries. However, despite the scoreline, there were positives to take from actually watching the 90 minutes of the match.
For one, the first half itself wasn’t that bad a performance. When Poland scored their first, Gibraltar could easily have crumbled then, and let three or four in before half time. It didn’t happen, and Kamil Grosicki’s goal was all that separated the teams in the first half. Star striker Robert Lewandowski was quiet, and Gib, when possible, tried to play football instead of kicking lumps out of the opposition (Poland picked up two first half yellow cards to Gibraltar’s zero).
There were also positives in the individual performances of certain players. Brian Perez particularly did well on what was his ‘official’ debut; especially when he wasn’t in the original 23 man squad. Both Lee and Kyle Casciaro put in promising performances, linking up well as you would expect two brothers and club team-mates to do.
As far as a collective unit went, the defence was generally solid in the first half. David Artell could perhaps have done better for the first goal, but in general he, and the rest of the back four did well for the first half. Perez was helpless for the first goal, but his save just before that was very good, and in general he did all he could for the first 45 minutes.
A final positive, throughout the 90 minutes, was the support of the fans. Despite the scoreline, they were loud, as expected, and gave their best support to the 11 men on the pitch.
The major negative from the game was the first 15 minutes of the second half. That ‘section’ of the match was an important one in keeping things tight, and keeping the score 1-0 for longer would have started to make the Poland players a bit nervous. Instead, Nawalka’s side scored four goals in that time and killed the game off. This is something I’m sure the players will learn from and hopefully not repeat in future games.
There were one or two other negatives that can be taken, when putting the scale of the match and the gulf in opposition into context. Rafa Bado didn’t put in the sort of performance that he is capable of; he’ll be the first to admit that, and it led to him being taken off for Jake Gosling.
There was an issue with naivety at times. Obviously buoyed by the games vs Estonia and Malta, as well as a decent 45 in the first half, the Gib team tried to take the game to their Polish counterparts in the second half; this left them open for a striker of Lewandowski’s calibre to take advantage. I wouldn’t criticise the team much for this though, it was their first competitive game and by far the biggest game they had ever been in. However, this is something I imagine the team will have in their minds in the Ireland and Georgia games, and perhaps will be more sensible in when and how they try and take the game to opponents.
Fitness wasn’t as big an issue as I expected it to be, although it attributed to the last two goals. Considering most of the team had very limited competitive matches under their belt this season, they could have been a lot worse. If anything, they tired mentally instead of physically at the end of the game, something which can be trained out of them.
The players need to believe that they belong on the same stage as their more illustrious opponents. The more games they do play, the more they’ll start to believe this, and results will slowly start to improve. There’s a long road to go down before the national team may start picking up competitive victories, but it’s a road the team, both players and staff, have to go down if they want to progress over the next few years, and pass on the mentality of winning to the next generation of Gibraltarian players.