Gibraltar managed to scrape through a game littered with refereeing errors to beat Real Balompedica Linense 2-1 to capture the inaugural Gibraltar Senior Festival Cup.
The game, which saw an attendance of around 3,500, with a decent away following of about 300 ‘La Balona’ fans, looked set to be a friendly affair, especially as the Linense players gave bunches of carnations to Gibraltarian fans as a sign of respect. This was warmly appreciated, but as the game kicked on, the friendliness didn’t last. Before the game had kicked off, there had been a small ‘confrontation’ when a few rowdy Gibraltarian fans got into the Balona section of the crowd, looking for a fight. However, it was dealt with swiftly by the police, and nothing happened of it.
The game kicked off on a good note from the point of view of Linense, who, as the pre-match favourites, started off the strongest. They had several chances to take the lead, but didn’t take them. However, they looked comfortable, and their cause wasn’t helped by a linesman who could easily be accused of showing bias towards Gibraltar. In the first half alone, he gave 8 offside decisions that were at least 3 or 4 yards onside, much to the delight of the local crowd obviously, but not good for the spirit of the game. The game seemed poised to go to half time at 0-0, and as fans (such as myself) started to get up to go to the bar or toilet, in order to beat the rush, Gibraltar took the lead with a breakaway goal in the first minute of added time (3 in total). This sent the local crowd into a frenzy, and the half time whistle blew not long afterwards.
As the second half kicked off, most fans would have expected Linense to simply move up a gear and take the initiative to the game, but within two minutes of the second half starting, they were two down. Gibraltar were defending under heavy pressure, when a long ball up field initiated a breakaway, and Gibraltar’s veteran striker Lee Casciaro showed that he is perhaps too good for the level of football he plays at, by getting the ball, sprinting past a couple of players, and eventually bundled the ball into the corner from a tight angle. Lee was mobbed by his ecstatic teammates, and Gibraltar seemed to have a bit of breathing space in the game. However, it changed just 5 minutes later.
Linense finally turned up the style in the game, and got a goal back, from Carlos Guerra. This sent the locals quiet for the time being, and it looked set to be a good second half. However, as the second half went on, Linense battered the Gibraltar goal, to no avail, and some desperate defending meant that they held their lead going into the final few minutes. Gibraltar did have a couple of chances of their own as the game neared its conclusion to put the game to rest, but didn’t, and it could have cost them dearly had Linense been more clinical in front of goal, a close range header and a shot from just outside the box being two of the bigger misses.
However, with 5 minutes of added time (once again two injuries to the Gibraltarian goalkeeper meant this time was alloted) played, the referee finally blew his whistle and Gibraltar could finally celebrate the victory. As the medals were presented to both sides, the trophy was given to eventual match winner Lee Casciaro (who should easily claim player of the tournament if such an award was given), and he lifted it up, much to the delight of the local crowd. There was a small amount of trouble at the end of the game, with a member of the stadium staff trying to cause an argument with the Linense keeper for some reason, but as the ‘Balona’ players applauded the local crowd as they walked past, the response was mutual, and the tournament ended on a good note.
In the other game, Estepona took 3rd place over Los Barrios in what I was told was a comfortable 3-0 victory.
Los Barrios 0-3 Estepona (Estepona take 3rd place, Lose Barrios 4th)
Gibraltar 2-1 Linense (Linense take runners-up, Gibraltar win the tournament)
My Man of the Match: Lee Casciaro: Once again, he was the leading player for Gibraltar, also getting what turned out to be the winning goal in both matches. Also gets my player of the tournament choice, by far.
Gibraltar were presented with prize money of £10,000 for winning, which should hopefully go into the local league, which should kick off around October.